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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.