romantic

parapluies dans le bain

Despite my SO working long hours we try to make time to get out and sightsee.. and it’s easier to accomplish when I show up at work for a three course lunch and afternoon husbandnapping. We finally managed to get French SIM cards, which means cell usage is now local rates instead of international so it’s easier to meet up while out and about. That being said I still forget what its like to live without data so we inevitably forget to look up the hours for things before we go.. like the Orangerie and Grand Palais. Hint : both closed on Tuesdays.

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We still managed to get some more mileage on the vélos before this realization. We instead went to the Petit Palais, and though the collection is somewhat small and Courbet-y its still a ridiculously nice building (Palace) complete with amazing chandelier.. well really, everything is nice. The more time we spend in France the more I foresee a courtyard in our future.

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They also have a little collection of non-Courbet realism, which is very nice. The dichotomy of the subject matter with their grand size and detail, hung in the glimmering halls of a palace is interesting. The way the subject is treated inherently gives you information about how you should feel about the painting. Two paintings really caught my eye, both by Fernand Pelez.

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Sans Asile“, 1883, gives you a scene firmly grounded in the stone foundation of Paris, the stark wall behind the figures not giving you any way around the figures, no where else to look except to notice the remnants of posters on the wall advertising fancy parties for the aristocracy. The woman is not engaged in chores nor is she distracted by anything else. She directly faces you, her gaze fixated on you, demanding attention. The children sleep around her and the baby suckles at her breast, participating in things that all children do. However the older boy has become more aware of their situation, aware that they are in a different situation to other children. He is growing up in this painting, coming to realize the disparity of it all and begins to emulate the same actions of his Mother. The mirroring of mother and child here also gives the impression that their poverty is cyclical, their impoverishment passed down and continuing through the generations.

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By contrast, Géricault created a series of portraits of beggars and insane people, some of these are at the Louvre. The figures are those who are normally hidden and marginalized by society but Géricault elevates them to a stature worthy of having your portrait painted, normally reserved for the rich and important. But the information that’s given in the works is much different than Sans Asile in the relatively small scale and quickness of the application. The figures are not carefully painted appearing looking away and fidgety as if they are constantly distracted by their malady. They are fully consumed by it. The blackness of the background gives the impression they are enveloped in a world of uncertainty. The figures are not given names, only identified by their condition. Criticisms of early psychiatry argue that “classifying, containing and observing people was effective only in silencing the voices of the mentally ill, rendering them invisible and therefore subject to abuse”1. But giving them recognition and exploration into their personal lives provides an air of empathy and dignity. Géricault is believed to have had a mental breakdown after completing his psychologically taxing masterpiece the “Raft of the Medusa” and as a Romantic painter is devoted to portraying intuition and emotion over reason, exploring the wild and aweful turmoil of the natural world, as well as a revolt against order and idealization, and rationality. “What perhaps strikes one most about the portraits is the extraordinary empathy we are made to feel for these poor souls, who might not strike us immediately as insane, but who certainly exhibit outward signs of inward suffering”2.

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There is another Pelez painting right beside entitled “au lavoir”, 1880. The scene is of washerwomen perpetually engaged in their labour. There are some items around but none that aren’t washing-related indicating the is no reprieve or separate identity for these women. Similarly, they are in a darkened room with no reference of time of day to determine beginning or end to their chore. The woman rings out the garment, her arms muscular from practice, her legs apart and anchored firmly. She represents the hardworking and resilient woman, the labourer. She embodies both the typical role of a woman but at the same time, the antithesis of typical feminine appearance and demeanour.

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Another nice painting in that room is Les Halles” (Léon Lhermitte), 1895. I really like the bustling composition and the snippets of folks in their market-day actions. I also like that you can still go to Les Halles well over 100 years later and walk around the open air shops and stalls that run down the same streets. Though these days there are less chickens.

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We also biked to Église de la Madeleine, situated just north of Place de la Concorde: the giant roundabout complete with Egyptian obelisk and crazy fountains. Église de la Madeleine’s design is based on the Roman temple Maison Carrée. Interesting side note : Frederick Chopin requested Mozart’s requiem be sung during his funeral but the church did not permit women it its choir. Eventually, the funeral was allowed to proceed only if the female singers remained hidden by a curtain.

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After checking out the church we walked down rue Réaumur to ogle the copper pans in the highfalutin chef stores and wander down some tiny restaurant-filled alleys just ducking into the subway before the rain started. Though we did manage to encounter our first subway delay in two months and ended up walking the four remaining subway stops in the rain, stopping for bread and chouquettes, which are little puffed clouds of deliciousness. I seriously need to learn to make these because they are so delicious, plus they’re the closest thing to timbits here.

0290017105961502-c2-photo-oYToyOntzOjE6InciO2k6NjU2O3M6NToiY29sb3IiO3M6NzoiI0ZGRkZGRiI7fQ==-recette-pas-a-pas-de-la-pate-a-chouquettesCrédit : © AlexQ – Fotolia.com

1, 2 http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/gericaults-portraits-of-the-insane.html

bons amis et nouveaux amis

Today began with another vélib trip downtown. The vélib is a really nice way to start the day. For some reason (probably because we’re on a hill) there usually aren’t any bikes available right by our house. Fortunately it’s a short walk to the next station and it really doesn’t take long to find an available bike. So after a nice short stroll we set out on our journey, with a vague idea of what route we should take. We got lost a few times, but I can’t really say that I mind.

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There were a lot of neighbourhoods and stores I’ve made a mental note of to check out later. We were having a grand old time until we crossed the Seine and started going uphill. Whoo boy! I mean, I know I’m out of shape, but I almost died of fatigue. Not really how I want to feel on vacation! Also, we went over our time and got fined 1 EUR. Not a big deal, but we weren’t allowed to rent any more bikes until we paid up.. and you can only do that at certain locations. Oh well! So we parked our vélos and decided to check out what this crazy long line stretching around the square was all about. It was the line for the catacombs, which unfortunately is where we were headed today! Oh well. The good news is we can just come back another day. It’s just too bad I killed myself cycling to get there. So from there we stopped in the nearest brasserie to quench our thirst with lovely Grimbergen (Belgian) bière. Wow. Super delicious. And not just because I biked for an hour and 15.

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bi……ère……

Next, we popped into a nearby cemetery, presumably to satisfy our macabre appetite that should have been satiated at the catacombs. Paris cemeteries are very different than back home. The plots are often raised tombs, or even big vaults, as opposed to Canada where they are predominantly garden-based with generously spaced plots and few raised markers. That being said, space is at a premium here and its no surprise everything is tightly fit to accommodate the millions of deceased. Even though, the large (read: tall) vaults are beautiful and ornate, offering family a quiet and private space to enter, pray, and leave flowers. Many have stained glass and wrought iron, ostensibly tiny chapels. They have an air of quiet melancholic beauty and sad, wistful elegance. We wandered around and found the tomb of Henri Poincaré, who was a mathematician who made fundamental contributions to the field as well as physics and celestial mechanics. The IHP, which is holding the session for which SO is attending, is named after him.

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Next, we biked up to the Louvre to pop in and see more stuff. Cause, why not! The thing that is crazy about the Louvre, well one thing, is that it was a crazy 12th century fortress/Royal palace. You cannot walk down the surrounding boulevard without being completely in awe of it. Forget the pyramid, this place is awesome!

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So after taking however many billions of steps it takes to actually get around the courtyard and into the building, we headed this time to the 1st floor. Now, remember when I said this place was a crazy 12th century fortress/royal palace? Well you can’t go very far without seeing some amazing original architecture and decor. Sometimes, when you’re looking at a really nice painting, just let your eyes wander up to the ceiling where you will see an equally amazing thing! We also got to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace’s new badass pedestal, on the bow of a ship as she was originally displayed in 200BC. Lookin’ good!

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Royal Quarters, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Sculpture Hallway, and Badass Armour

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just look up. i dare you.

We also checked out some good friends : La Jeune Martyre (Delaroche), La nuit ; un port de mer au clair de lune (Vernet), Magdalena-Bay, vue prise de la presqu’ile des tombeaux, au nord do Spitzberg ; effet d’aurore boréal (Biard), and Atala au tombeau (Girodet de Roussy Trioson). We also said hello to some new friends : Jeunne homme nu assis au bord de la mer (Flandrin), Le Tricheur (La Tour), Le Pandemonium (Martin), Pygmalion et Galatée (Girodet de Roussy Trioson), and Vue d’intérieur / Les Pantoufles (Hoogstraten). We also stopped for sushi dinner halfway thru that big list. Benefits of having a membership!

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La Jeune Martyre always draws me in from across the room. There is so much darkness in this painting, literally, it almost swallows everything within; save the heavenly illumination of her fine halo.  The light glows on her beautiful face, warming what is a chilling scene and giving you a sense of warmth and comfort blanketing the girl. In addition, the light the halo provides extends and reflects in the depths of the water and the soaked folds of her gown in such a sadly realistic way it makes you want to cry. I have viewed this piece before and was equally drawn in before, but what I noticed this time was in the top left corner there is a shadowy figure of some people, just barely visible in the faintest glow of the sunrise, and a hint of the bow of a small boat.

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Remember in that other post when I said I loved painted night scenes with one light source? Yeah, La Nuit is another reason why. Granted you could argue there are two light sources but I would tell you that I think the faint light of the bonfire literally and metaphorically fades quickly and pales in comparison to the brilliant and far-reaching luminescence of the full moon. This painting is a beautiful thing, but is also a dichotomy almost literally split in two. On the right, the figures are turning away and ignoring the moon and it’s gifts, instead huddling around the fire to glean some comfort from its temporal existence. On the other side, the figures are preoccupied with savouring the helpful glow : navigating ships, fishing off the dock. Literally, food and transportation. Also they don’t seem very cold as if the provision they receive are sufficiently fulfilling… . The quality of light in this piece, to which no jpg could do it justice, is absolutely captivating and illuminates the world in a very complete way. I might be out to lunch : it might just be a nice painting of some moonlit activities and people enjoying a bonfire, but thinking about different relationships within a work is kindof fun!

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Magdalena-Bay is horrifying. At first, when you see it across the room, you see lots of nice sweeping contrasts and brilliant cyan hues and you think to yourself, ooh that looks pretty! However, when you get up close you behold the horror of this work! One of the amazing things about paintings is the ability to tell a story without using any words, so let’s look at what this painting says. It’s cold, it’s very cold and windy and icy. Oh, look there are some people on the shore, oh wait, all of them are dead except one. Hey, what’s that in the water? Oh yeah its a shipwreck. How horrifying would it be to 1) be shipwrecked in a horrible place 2) all your shipmates are dead except for you. That being said, there is a single file of footprints leading off the painting to the right, indicating that one of their crew has gone for help and this poor soul is left to wait with the dead. The snow has begun to pile up on the corpses, indicating that some time has passed. I wonder if the friend with ever come back alive? This business of perpetuity in painting is both fascinating and horrifying. There is no indication of something happening, or going to happen, it’s just this poor soul doomed to forever sit in the freezing cold and wait for help. Help will never come, and there will be no reprieve from his situation. /shudder.

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Atala is another one that tugs at the heart strings. The subject is from Chateaubriand‘s romantic novel Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Wilderness; a story of the half-caste Atala who falls in love with Chactas, a native man (America) but Atala has taken a vow to remain a virgin and a Christian, so she commits suicide by poison. I could go on about the unbelievable quality of the persons painted in this scene, how the light and shadow is so masterfully done you believe in your heart you are gazing at the event.. but I could do that about basically anything from this era. The thing that I love about this painting is how quietly painful it is. Father Aubry is trying to do his job and bury this poor lady while Chacatas cannot let her go. Again there is no indication of the passage of time, or that he is just giving her a quick hug before she goes. He will hold on forever.

“The exoticism, the defense of the innocence of primitive peoples and the religious sentiment that characterized the novel are all transposed into the picture. Girodet has not merely illustrated a single scene from Chateaubriand’s novel, he has synthesized several passages.”1

The scene is very quiet but there is definite tension : the old man’s hands pressing in to her sides, attempting to pull her away, her lover clinging with a very tight and unrelenting grip. Even the arrangement of the piece gives you this feeling – the lover curled up in a heavy, stationary form, low to the ground and rooted at the bottom of the painting, and the lady and old man in a light and flowing form, drifting away to the top right, sweeping or floating out of the painting, balanced and anchored also by the tomb archway with the glow of light and the cross – salvation and redemption encompassed in perpetual light.. it indicates balance, permanence and steadfastness.

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The jeune homme is a painting I recognized from some art history years passed, but had never taken the time to hang out with it in person. It is a simple painting; the boy quietly sitting by the sea, head down in simple posture in deep rest and contemplation. Yet the sea is a tiny tiny part of this painting. Overwhelmingly, the boy is the main subject matter. Firstly, the quality of the painting is fantastic but moreover it gives an audience to a quiet moment.“The young man shows introspection in deep timelessness“.2 It elevates the importance of man, of his greatness, of his self-analysis, of contemplation, of loneliness and of rest.

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Le Tricheur is a nice storytelling piece and allegory. The main figure gets tipped off by the barmaid that her opponent is cheating, as we the viewer gets to see him slip an ace out of his sash. The other guy  has no idea what’s going on. He’s a fish. His dress is grand and opulent yet he is young, hinting that he is naïve; proud of the wealth that he spreads out on the table, and becomes drawin into the game by the other players, only to be cheated. The scene dictates a contrast between innocence and vice, and dichotomy of the detailed opulence vs unfinished quality of their physical appearance, yet opposite in their wiles. There are some aspects of this painting that are really fantastic, the layout for example is balanced evenly, the table completely parallel to the edge of the painting with an empty seat, as if you, the viewer, are part of the scene. You literally come to the table and get to see the tricheur showing you his hand, almost smirking while the woman becomes suspicious but insofar is getting away with it. At first glance, the fact that some parts of this painting feel unfinished seems to take away from the experience, as the majority of works in the Louvre are finished to such fine detail, yet it is in the contrast of finished and unfinished that we are given information and guidance to the quality of the characters, their intentions, their downfalls and their fates.

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Pandemonium. This one’s fire and brimstone spewed at me from down a hall I didn’t intend on going down today. But if this painting doesn’t capture attention, I don’t know what will. It’s based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, it “denominates the capital of hell created by Satan (literally in Greek, pandemonium means “all the demons”) Satan is held here in the council chamber and presides over the assembly of demons”.3 Huge boiling pits of  fiery lava, big sheets of dark cloudy rain, army of millions marching from a giant fortress of evil commanded by a crazy looking Satan with a pike. Yowza.

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Pygmalion and Galatée is the Greek story of how the sculptor, Pygmalion, falls in love with the statue that he created. He makes offerings at the altar of Aphrodite, and quietly wishes for a bride to be the living likeness of the ivory statue. When he returns home, he kisses the statue and discovers she is warm to the touch and Aphrodite has granted his wish. Not only is this kindof a nice story, but the soft but perfectly clear application of paint is simply delightful. The gentle but deliberate attention to the faces is what makes this painting perfectly charming, not to mention the brilliant bright light and soft clouds, almost a fog that is bringing Galatée to life.

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Vue d’intérrieur – Dutch paintings are the best, the quiet simplicity of everyday life is brilliant. I always find much comfort in these paintings as they spend time with and lovingly record the mundane, but that which we are familiar : the comforting view of our home from the front door, the keys still dangling from the lock, the gentle afternoon glow from the window greets us and says welcome home. The hanging linens, the broom leaning up against the wall, the candle in the holder still askew the way you left it, the reassuring and familiar view of your favourite picture on the wall. Just kick off your shoes and come on in. How nice is that?

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Apollo takes a selfie.. with a vanquished serpent. Apollo takes the best selfies.

1 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/entombment-atala

2 http://www.archivesdefrance.culture.gouv.fr/action-culturelle/celebrations-nationales/2009/arts/hippolyte-flandrin

3 http://musee.louvre.fr/bases/doutremanche/notice.php?lng=0&idOeuvre=1899&f=2100

le vélo en libre … vélib’ !

I have a sensitive face. Just look at me the wrong way or after some wine I’ll turn all sorts of red. These things happen pretty often. Also if I use the wrong kind of soap my face turns into a mess.. and not the hot kind. In preparation for my trip I made some handmade soap so I would have something I could be sure was nice and gentle for my face. The thing I didn’t really consider is that I made a slightly different recipe so it could double as a shampoo in a pinch. Unfortunately this was a really bad choice. Also, I didn’t bring anything else. So after a couple days of suffering this horrible soap I decided that I should go buy some. Naturally I looked up a nice and fancy perfumerie and soap shop. Naturally. Also, they have a new location in Montmartre. My opinion may change after some more time spent here but Montmartre is easily my favourite place. Sure, all the tourists flock here, but with good reason. The streets are narrow and winding and it’s on a huge hill, and the Sacré Coeur peeks at you from every lane way. It’s full of vibrant people milling around enjoying life : eating macarons and strolling around while the afternoon sun pops in from time to time from behind the clouds and scruffy dogs jog around happily. Also, fantastic views. Anyway, I was pleased to endeavour to spend my afternoon there.

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So, after trying to figure out which train tickets you can buy online with a Canadian credit card (read : not as many as you’d think) we made a simple breakfast and headed out to find a Vélib’ station. We activated our cards online that morning, paying some modest fee, and only had to check in to a station and we were free to cycle around the city! Now all we have to do is swipe our card and we can use a bike for 30 minute intervals at any time. I won’t lie, the prospect of cycling in Paris sounded horrifying. But, I gave it a go.. and I must say it was fricken’ delightful. First of all, yes Paris is very busy. But really, there are more motorbikes than cars. Also, the street lanes are pretty liberal so each individual has more freedom to give and take as much room as they need. Surprisingly everyone is very respectful about this and I had no trouble zipping along. If I had a baguette in my basket, it would have been picture perfect.

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You know what else is picture perfect? Pretty much anything in Paris.

So we finally arrived in Montmartre and strolled around drinking some kind of wierd milk and vanilla slushie while watching poor tourists trying to politely dodge the pushy con artists. You know the ones. They ask you if you want a bracelet or something, then when you say no they grab your arm and slip a coloured string on your finger and start braiding it. Now you are literally trapped until they finish braiding some string on your finger and then ask you to pay for it. So many polite people. So many braids. I’ve learned to use the phrase “non, merçi” a lot. Also, “non…. non non non non non.” Though my favourite is a dismissing wave of the hand. It says fuck off the the nicest way possible. Anyway, after sampling some amazing lime/basil and salted caramel macarons we finally made it to our soap shop. I picked up the gentlest-sounding stuff I could find, as well as a nice soap dish, cause, why not. I also got a new pair of sun glasses because my old ones got squished in my carry-on. Turns out they are literally identical to my squished pair. I guess cheap glasses know no bounds. Also, I guess I know what I like.

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Now, on to downtown, which on the vélo is fun because you can kindof meander through streets and as long as you are heading to that pointy tower thing you’re going in the right direction. Also, traveling not on the métro means you get a quick overview of what’s around. I found a nice street where there were jillions of bakeries. Also a cool park with lots of sculpture. Also we passed by the Opera house and everyone was showing up in evening wear.

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Quickly we came to the Louvre and decided to pop in and pick up our membership passes. Now, get this. One admission to the Louvre is € 13, and a youth membership is € 15. Quoi ? I can’t even believe it. I really thought the guard would stop me and be like, hey, your pass is fake haha you fell for it. It has my picture on it and everything. Now, I was getting pretty hungry at this point, but once you have a Louvre pass in hand, you don’t leave without seeing something. Aaaand, if you’re going to see something you might as well go up to the top floor. Aaaaand, once you’re there you can’t go without saying hi to all the other paintings. So that’s what we did. We checked out Cimetière et ruines envahis par les arbres (Lessing). We said hey to Vues de sites du Danemark et de la Norvège. (Balke) We also spent some quality time with Vase de fleurs sur une table de pierre avec nid un verdier (Spaendonck). And I mean quality time.

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It favors emotion over reason and imagination over critical analysis

The Cimetière really caught my eye due to the lighting. Its tucked away in a small room, higher up on the wall where the overhead lights kindof gleams off it. But if you catch it from the right angle, it will take your breath away. I really have a soft spot for paintings that are a night scene with a single light source. I know that sounds specific, but oh man, I’ve never seen one I didn’t like. I will quote to you from the Louvre website, because it’s 2 am and I’m not feeling clever :

It shows an imaginary scene of a neglected cemetery under a heady sky through which a single ray of light illuminates the tombstone in the center. The tombs are in disorder, and the Gothic ruins are overrun by weeds and leafy branches. They are the true subjects of this meditation on death and the passing of time. […] It favor[s] emotion over reason and imagination over critical analysis. Nature played a central role in [German Romanticism], reflecting human emotions and serving as a vector for melancholy, anxiety, and the fantastic […] the same expression of anxiety, tinged with religiosity, when faced with the human condition, man’s place in the world, his relationship to the divine, and his imminent mortality.”1

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awfulness

The Balke studies surprised me. Normally when I see a room full of studies I think, why would I look at studies when I can spend my time with finished works? Thankfully SO called me back and pointed out some cool things and got me to look closer. Then they kindof hit me over the head. Plus, there were a lot of them. I love Romanticism, which is why I beelined for the top floor. A nice aspect of them being studies is it adds a certain rawness and reality to the pieces, which can sometimes border on the surreal. The majority are enveloped in dark unending cloudcover and wild storms. Some are gentle seascapes but not without the overwhelming awfulness (read : full of awe) from a blazing sunset. Also, most of them contained a line of birds making their ascent to the heavens. Usually Romantic pieces have a certain permanence of mortality feel to them so I’m a bit confused but I’m liking this metaphorical touch. I haven’t really figured out what it means. I’ll sleep on it.

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The bouquet never stays still, it lives, and more importantly, it dies.

Now, the Spaendonck. Normally when you see a painting you like, you see it from afar and bask in its brilliance. Then you think.. I wonder how they did that. Let’s look a little closer. Ah, brushstrokes! I knew it! Not with this baby. The closer you get, the more your mind will boggle at the sheer unbelievable quality of this. And no, it doesn’t look like a photograph. It looks like the flowers are right fucking there. Every vein on the back of the rose leaves, every brownish tinge on the edges of the tulip’s petal gently curling away in its age, every almost undetectable crease in the peony’s million petals, every pillowy push that the flowers gives eachother as the bouquet sighs and wilts away. He even put in some ants and a bird eating a caterpillar. Why? Because he’s Spaen-fricken-donck that’s why. I can’t even begin to describe how difficult it is to paint flowers and birds and ants in 1789 because as every florist knows, as soon as you cut the stem the flower begins to open and move and grow and change. The bouquet never stays still, it lives, and more importantly, it dies. To capture this kind of detail and liveliness is beyond me.

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The best rosé I’ve ever had. € 4. Bam!

Now, as you can imagine, my feet are getting pretty tired. And my stomach was rumbling way more than it was before I got in the Louvre. And even when I said I was ready to go, and I rushed by some Rembrandts promising I would come back to see them, something would catch me and I’d have to spend a few moments in front of it questioning the meaning of life. Thankfully, there was a pizza-by-the-slice joint outside of the Louvre. You can never be too cultured for pizza-by-the-slice. And Coke. And Apricot and custard stuffed pastry. Man, Paris is good. Now, there’s no way I’m biking home at this point so we grabbed some groceries and got on the métro, then got off then back on then off and on as I managed to misread some signs. You know, just to punish my feet a little more. Then home to make soup and drink wine. And more bread, and more cheese. Life is good.

1 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/cemetery-wood