cemetery

tilted perspective

Closing in on December, we managed to pack up our little apartment into two overweight suitcases. The days counted down into the single digits until we arranged our meeting to return the apartment keys and pay for broken wine glasses. The horribly humid, yet cold and drafty apartment was thoroughly bleached to remove all trace of mold growing behind the damp furniture. Not our problem, I thought.. but still we could use our deposit back. Inevitably the toll of bleach and mold took their toll and I felt unnecessarily sick on travel day. C’est la vie.

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Sapin de Noël à Chenonceau

Navigating the expansive Paris train system one last time we made it to the airport and spent our last Euros on overpriced sandwiches, using up our last bit of change for the uncustomary tip. A long dry but uneventful plane ride later we landed in Toronto. Leaving the plane we cracked open the backplates on our phones to switch back our SIM cards to text loved ones, “We’re home”.

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vin à Caves Duhard, Amboise

I keep getting asked if I miss Paris, having barely enough time to process my place in the world these last few weeks. I’ve indulged in many Canadian comforts, such as dirty take-out pizza and timmies. I wouldn’t say Tim’s has good coffee; the coffee tastes like industrial warming plates and the cardboard cups it comes in, but tinged with Canadian kindness, commonality.. and liquid sweetener. The mid-sized walk-up apartment buildings of Paris have been replaced with groomed front lawns and pine trees, the € 3 wine replaced with inferior $20 wine, tradis replaced with Christmas dinner rolls, old-world artworks replaced with pale winter sunsets. I can’t say I miss Paris at this time though its European charm has a special place in my heart, and for me now represents a time of personal reflection and improvement, stopping to think about art and the world, enjoying long walks and fresh food. My world is instead filled with singing familiar choruses and gazing out on frozen farmland, blasting down the 401, passing small towns that you’d miss if you blink at the right time. Connecting with my roots: both my family tree and my roots in the natural world. I don’t want to say there’s no place like home.. because it infers that it’s better not to leave. When you leave and come back you both appreciate all the things you left home, but bring back many new things, parts of other places that you blend in with your own life, becoming a new person. Your personal makeup now an altered recipe with improved ingredients.

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rooftops

Rooftops in the Ward (1924), was painted by A.J. Casson (1898-1992), a Torontonian, member of the ever-loved member of the Group-of-Seven, and the Art Director and Vice-President of my alma mater. This was one of the first paintings I thought of when I got home. The heavy blue blocks of snow covering the rooftops a familiar Canadian sight, but the angular abstraction of the houses I am reminded of when I pass these giant suburban complexes on the highway. This painting always stuck out to me on the coveted top floor of the AGO, nestled in with fuzzy reduced palate sketches of typical Algonquin landscapes. The anonymity of each building lending itself to feeling familiar to anyone who looks upon it, the gridwork of buildings similar to the view from so many houses, especially in the Big Smoke. “His art distills Ontario […] into highly finished, carefully composed designs, with a stillness that sometimes seems ominous” 1.

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toits

Keeping with my cross-cultural mindset, I can’t help but be reminded of a similarly lovely painting on the top floor of Musée d’Orsay, Vue de toits (Effet de neige), (1879) by Gustave Caillebotte. Technically, he was a Realist, but had one foot in Impressionism. His works were often known for their tilted perspective, likely influenced by Japanese prints 2. The painting has a similar skewed orientation as Rooftops, the same anonymous houses to give the impression of a familiar window-view to the audience. The cool colours giving volume and weight to the snow, though clearly we get much more snow here in Canada. /brag

1 http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=935 2 Distel, Anne, et al. Gustabe Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.

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la Canadienne étrange

My SO has returned from Marseille finally, so my schedule has changed back from sleeping in late and sitting around in brasseries drinking bière and musing about artistic and historical conservation. Instead we caught up on life and looked at pictures of beautiful Marseille. It’s really gorgeous in the mountain and coastline regions and I was able to view many nice landscapes courtesy of my SO who trekked for hours to the tip top to capture them.

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holy foothills, batman!

Yesterday we also received another IHP student who needed a place for a night until he could get the keys to his apartment in Paris. Our apartment may not be the biggest but there’s always room for friends. So being his first day in Paris we just went out and walked about in the downtown, mostly around Île de la Cité where we were treated to ice cream and milled around watching the huge lineup to get into the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (it extended out of the building and around the square). We walked around the courtyards and surrounding gardens and found a bench not completely covered in bird shit to sit a while and chat.

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ding dong

After a bit we departed to meet some more friends for dinner. Outside of the Notre Dame there was a superb statue street performer, who when you give some euros breaks his act and invites you over for a picture.

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“…la fille français is not amused by your antics”

We previously arranged to meet our friends for dinner, and agreed to meet at a métro stop. Now, in Canada there are usually one or two entrances to a subway station, but here there are lots. Usually around 5 or 6. So if you agree to meet your friends at the métro stop, they could basically be anywhere the a two block radius. Regardless once we located each other we headed off for dinner and ended up at a very busy Japanese restaurant. SO and I ordered Udon, and our friends had rice bowls. Super yummy! And somewhat reasonably priced, which is a difficult thing to find in Paris. Usually if you are just walking around a lot of the restaurants are usually € 30 for a two or three course dinner. In order for me to spend $45 CAD on a meal, it would have to be a really special occasion. So I’m not really accustomed to spending this much on dinner.. but SO and I managed to get our two Udon for € 33, not bad! We meandered a while after dinner, got some espresso and chilled and chatted, very nice. Afterwards headed home for some much needed rest.

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Île de la Cité

Today our friend left and we went out for a long walk, after the obligatory croissant and espresso of course. We headed down to the 20th and went to the Cimetière Père Lachaise and wandered through the tombs and had some interesting discussions on burials, last wishes, grieving and memorials. I know I have some strange and unusual opinions on such things. It’s definitely nice to have a SO who is equally weird. It’s not fun to have someone to balance you out, it’s better to match, imho. We discussed the importance (or actually lack thereof) of having a dedicated, visitable “plot” or tomb and instead entertained notions of rock climbing walls and water slides. Why not? We are generally in agreement that once we’re dead we’re not going to know what our final resting place will consist of, so what is going to matter is your legacy. Who doesn’t want a water slide legacy? Just sayin’.

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retour à la nature

We also determined it would be good to donate yourself to scientific research. That’s a pretty good legacy, too. Unless you just get chopped up by some first year who later drops out to join the circus. That must tarnish it a bit. My favourite plots were those reclaimed by age; ancient rock broken and crumbling, covered in tree branches and ivy, and even the big stones laid down return back to the earth and enshrouded in the embrace of nature. I like that.

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“svp”

We endeavoured to go visit Fourier and Laplace and other stupidly famous mathematicians, but unfortunately they didn’t make the list of notable figures on the big map. C’est dommage! Of course if you follow the hordes of gum chewing swaggering half drunk weirdos up the winding hill and through the tombs desecrated by graffiti and scrawled names towards the sound of music playing out of some tiny dollar-store speaker, towards the smell of rotting heaps of flowers and cigarettes you will find Jim Morrison’s grave. It’s pretty disgusting. As much as I am a fan, and by fan I mean totally-obsessed-owning-every-possible-LP-and-book-and-poem-totally-encyclopedic-knowledge-filled-wide-eyed-super-fan, the disgusting decorum of these fans is sad.

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“haw!”

I don’t mind so much milling around smoking hash and drinking wine sadly humming Doors songs and thinking about this person you admire so much, it’s more the people who desperately want to take some kind of ownership of the space and endeavour to make their mark, whether its carving their name in some poor neighbor’s tomb, sticking their gum (and I mean thousands of bits of chewed gum) in some nearby ash tree, coating the bannisters that are in place to keep the rabble out in layers of meaningless stickers or leaving condoms, wine corks, cigarette butts and otherwise trash around the site or pinning it up somewhere so it doesn’t get swept away? How reprehensible is your demeanour that you think spewing your trash allover a cemetery is admirable? Not that Jim Morrison promoted proper behaviour, but standing up for things that are important to you and you feel need to be said, and sticking your refuse in somebody’s gravestone are two different things.

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“Victimes des révolutions”

Just outside the cimetière is the Square Samuel-de-Champlain which is a lovely hilly garden that houses the Victimes des révolutions, by Paul Moreau-Vauthier. This bas-relief sculpture is often mistakenly called the mur fédérés but is actually a tribute to the victims on both sides of the revolutions. It is meant to be a general monument, with ghostly anguished faces lightly carved into the wall, with the figure of a woman standing in front. The stones of the wall, however, are the actual stones from the wall where one hundred and forty seven “fédérés” (combatants of the Paris Commune, France’s oldest labour movement and socialist government that briefly ruled Paris after the Franco-Prussian war), were lined up and shot and thrown in a trench at the foot of the wall. Père Lachaise was the last remaining stronghold of the uprising, with a long and difficult battle fought in between the tombs and through the night, which ultimately ended in the horrible demise of those remaining few that surrendered, who joined the thousands before them that died in the gallows and on the streets of Paris. The anguish on the ghostly faces lightly carved into the wall fill your heart with dread and despair, contrasted with the goddess whose splayed body both enacts the execution and stands in front of the victims with arms extended as if to protect them. The bullet holes lodged in the stones speaks haunting tales to any viewer who beholds it, and while it isn’t specifically for the fédérés, they are a few of the hundreds of thousands of souls lost in the historical, political turmoil of France.

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marseille…marseille…

After a long and meandering walk through the cimetière we stopped into a nice restaurant for three-course lunch. I had caprese salad, chicken in mushroom creme sauce and crème caramel and a café au lait for dessert. SO had les œufs au mayonnaise, roasted pork with cauliflower casserole and chocolate mousse for dessert. Damn, french cuisine is so good. Afterwards, we found (much to my delight) a very mishmash and very thrifty street antiques sale. There were many boxes laid out to dig through the piles of old dishes, shaving kits, broken watches, figurines, old photos, violins, coffee grinders and anything-and-everything wrought iron. There were also occasional stands selling artisinal meats, cheese and crêpes. You seem to find the strangest places to spend money on a Sunday when all the regular stores are closed. We then headed back to the 19th, started dinner cooking and caught up on some work for the week as we waited. On Sundays, I sometimes find a modest sized chicken and cook it up for my SO and I, and am reminded of Henry IV of France who stated “I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” I often think of this quote when we sit down to our humble and yet delectably wholesome meal. Granted, I usually substitute a pot for an oven.. or these days.. toaster oven.

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another Marseille picture, because it’s fucking gorgeous, that’s why.