nature

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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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

le cercueil caché

If you ever wanted to get into the artist Jean-François Millet, the place to start would be “The Gleaners”, 1857. It is probably his best known work and the one of the most cherished examples of Realism painting. The scene depicts the ancient right of poor women to scour the wheat fields after harvest and collect and bits of edible wheat that remain. The painting shows three figures, hunched over in perpetual labour, hard working for a menial meal. The triad and the triangle in painting is one that brings a feeling of balance – the triad of women rise in front of us like a sturdy mountain. Indeed, their own forms are drawn to the ground like mountains, ever rooted in the soil.

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“What does The Gleaners show? [The women] embody an animal force deeply absorbed by a painstaking task. The contrast between wealth and poverty, power and helplessness, male and female spheres is forcefully rendered.” – Liana Vardi

Even if you aren’t familiar with the process of gleaning there are visual cues in the process to tell the story ; we can see the hay being harvested and piled up in the background, indicating to us that the harvest has already occurred and the women are engaged after. In addition, the contrast of the heaping piles of plentiful food hovers over them, almost danging above their heads as a strong reminder of their situation. The gleaners themselves are hunched and tired looking, their skin darkened from the sun as a testament to their unending labour.

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Their faces are obscured from us shrouding their identity and allowing the gleaner to act as a placeholder for all impoverished women. They’ve collected but mere handfuls of grain as the sun is setting, an indicator of the small reward for such a difficult and lengthy task. But the work is not in condemnation of the gleaners, instead the warmth of the golden light shines gracefully upon them as they are presented to us in impressive scale compared to the “privileged” in the background.

“[They] have gigantic pretensions, they pose as the Three Fates of Poverty, their ugliness and their grossness unrelieved” 1.

“Part of the shock value of Millet’s painting was undoubtedly due to the fact that in the past gleaning had usually been represented in art through the Old Testament tale of Ruth the gleaner, in which Ruth is characterized as a modest and virtuous example of the way to God, and not – as it was now – a statement on rural poverty” 2. There is both a literal and metaphorical disconnect between labourer and upper class as exemplified by the master on horseback (top right) who is leading the harvest but not participating. He is shaded and solitary, not involved in the scene, and physically set apart from any work being done, yet he represents the consumer, both in food and class.

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When the Gleaners was submitted to the salon of 1857, the reception was disapproving, even hostile, especially among the upper classes (the usual patrons and audience of art). “To them, it was a reminder that French society was built upon the labor of the working masses, and landowners linked this working class with the growing movement of Socialism” 3.  The work was viewed as a glorification of poor subjects and idolization of rural life, a common theme in Millet’s work. This theme and subsequent raw depiction and admiration is nowadays widely revered and respected but was generally rejected at the time of its debut, and the painting sold for much less than the asking price. Millet desperately needed the money, but in his embarrassment tried to keep the pathetic sale price a secret from the public.

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Two Peasant Women Digging in the Snow, April, 1890
Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich, Switzerland.

Not much later, Van Gogh idolized and drew inspiration from Millet. Rural scenes were important in Van Gogh’s work both on a cultural and psychological level. Van Gogh did over twenty copies of Millet, especially during his self-admitted stint in Saint-Paul asylum which his brother thought Vincent created his best work. These paintings interpret the symbolism of Millet’s rural scenes and translate subjects into his own style. Van Gogh did in fact copy the Gleaners but reworked the scene into women digging in a field of snow. The work takes on a futile and uncomfortable aspect, changing what they dig through to something illustrative of that which is barren and hostile.

“One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not yet here.” 4

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Another very famous work is The Angelus” (Millet), 1859, also at Museé d’Orsay. It depicts a rural scene of two peasants standing in a field with gentle illumination from the sunset. They are gently bowed, praying over a basket of potatoes. This simple painting is another depiction of the humble and righteous peasant. It was commissioned by Thomas Gold Appleton, who never collected it. It is about half the size of the Gleaners, and sold for less than half the price, so you can imagine Millet’s embarrassment. It was finally shown in 1874, a year before Millet’s death, and by the end of the century had completely about-faced in reception. It sold in 1889 for 553 000 francs5 (originally sold for 1000), the highest price for a modern painting to date. Only a month later, The Gleaners sold for 300,000 francs. Posthumous fame is a common theme in art history, and in this case owes itself in part Millet’s oeuvre, which was exhibited and auctioned after his death6. “They presented an artist whose works depicted “the man and the woman of the field in all the states of their lives. [Millet] admirably shows developments from infancy to youth, from youth to maturity, from maturity to old age, with the most solid logic and precise observation, with no more bias toward ugliness than toward beauty” 7.

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An interesting side note is the Dali’s fascination with this painting, which led him to create a series of works and writings exploring his horrific associations and dark obsession with the Angelus. Dali was convinced that the work was sinister on some other level. Dali experienced hallucinations where he could see the painting in his mind but his interpretation was changed and distorted. Dali became convinced the painting was a funeral scene and that the two figures were playing over a child-sized coffin. Dali eventually convinced the Louvre to conduct an x-ray of the painting and discovered a small coffin-shaped object between the figures, which had been painted over with the basket of potatoes, presumably to make it more saleable. In his book The Tragic Myth of Millet’s Angelus Dali “recounts an instance in which a man knifed the Angelus and was put in an insane asylum, and uses that anecdote to make a point about the painting’s unpredictable power: exactly what David Freedberg and Leo Steinberg were to chronicle over forty years later.  [… He also wrote] an essay explaining “Why They Attack the Mona Lisa”; [wherein] it divides assailants into “ultra–intellectuals” such as Duchamp, and “more-or-less Bolivians” who throw “pebbles,” or just steal the image” 8.

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The Angelus is similar in composition to the Gleaners, in that the background extends out and away from the subject. Millet is said to have drawn inspiration by the memory if having to recite the Angelus prayer upon hearing the toll of the church bell9. However the tiny indication of the church, fading away in the background serves to both to indicate the context in which the subject should be considered, but also physically depicts the physical and representational distance between them. “Millet pictured not the rift that modernization had driven between rustics and the land but a nostalgic union of humankind and nature”10. What is foremost delineated are the two figures engaged in solemn thanksgiving within the sustenance borne of the soil. “The shift in attitude toward Millet, The Gleaners, and The Angelus in France owed not to the workings of the marketplace but to nostalgia and to the creation of a fluid republican national identity in France in the generation after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune” 11. The socio-political upheaval uncertainty in France encouraged the public to take solace in the simple and unchanging rural scene, and the direct relationship between need and satisfaction ie)hunger/food, purpose/job.

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Similarly, there are other examples of rural idolatry from this era, including Ploughing in Nivernais” (Rosa Bonheur), 1850. Bonheur, in contrast to Millet, enjoyed a great deal of success in her lifetime. “Photographic realism is the hallmark of her work, yet she rises far above mere photographic representation. She was intelligent, conscientious, & hard working. She believed in honesty in art & kept as close to nature as she could” 12. Bonheur studied animal anatomy and osteology and dedicated her life to the honest and factual depiction of animals. She was met with wide success of her realistic rural depictions. Nivernais was a commission awarded to her by the Second Republican government of France. “The inspiration for this famous painting may be from a novel by George Sand, the pen-name of Baroness Dudevant (1804-1876). In “The Devil’s Pool” (1846), she wrote about the displacement of peasants and farmers by industrialization, and espoused a return to nature” 13.

boeufsanother example, Boeufs allant au labour, effet de matin (Troyon, Constant) 1855.

In contrast to Millet, however the scene was not interpreted as a critique of the upper and middle classes, it was instead thought of as an loving depiction of simple life and stability, ideals which were yearned for within France. Unlike Millet’s Gleaners and Angelus, they are not bathed in golden warming light, they are illuminated in cold, clear light as if to indicate there is no question to the motivation or appreciation of the subject, it is purely Realism. “It is primarily an animal scene, whose heroes are the horse themselves, leaving little room for the man: the herdsman is very small on the canvas. It is a hymn to work in the fields whose magnitude is even more magnified it is easy to oppose, in the aftermath of revolution, the depravity of the city” 14. The public’s desires for stability and tranquility was reflected in their artistic interests. “They found solace in their image of what they considered unchanging: country life. In Labourage they see the sunny blue sky, the hills and moving oxen create a comfortable flow across the canvas. There is harmony between man and beast” 15.

1 “Story behind the picture – The Gleaners”. University of St. Andrews. Retrieved 2008-01-10.

2 http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~waste/timeline/story-pic1.html

3 Kleiner, Fred; Christian J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages (12 ed.). California: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning. 2005.

4 Erickson, K. At Eternity’s Gate: The Spiritual Vision Of Vincent van Gogh. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsman Publishing. 1998. pp. 150–151.

5 W. Walton et al., Chefs-d`oeuvre de l`exposition universelle de Paris, 1889 (Philadelphia: George Barrie, 1889), 53.

6, 10, 11 http://www.mutualart.com/OpenArticle/France-Embraces-Millet–The-Intertwined-/65DB908A334354D8

7 Theophile Silvestre. Catalogue des 95 dessins de J.-F. Millet composant la collection de M. Gavet (Paris: Pillet, 1875) ; and Catalogue de la vente qui aura lieu par suite du deces de Jean-Francois Millet, peintre, sale cat., Hotel Drouot, Paris, May 10-11, 1875.

8 http://305737.blogspot.fr/2013/03/chapter-81-salvador-dali.html

9 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=339

12, 15 http://ringlingdocents.org/pages/bonheur.htm

13 http://www.themasterpiececards.com/famous-paintings-reviewed/bid/18772/Famous-Paintings-Plowing-in-the-Nivernais

14 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/collections/oeuvres-commentees/recherche/commentaire/commentaire_id/labourage-nivernais-31.html

juste un autre jour à paris

For such lovely weather, it’s good to spend time outdoors. So, we biked down to the 6th and decided to go to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a nice afternoon stroll. The Luxembourg gardens were very nice, very lush and pleasing, with a nice variety of sculptures and long treed avenues.

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riffraff

The central fountain is encircled with an elevated area with lots of shaded seating to relax and enjoy the fresh air. Also, the fountains had cute little sailboats for the kids to play with in the fountain, which is nice. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a little off the beaten path, but it wasn’t completely inundated with tourists and busybodies like The Tuileries. There are also lots of winding paths to enjoy, enclosed graveled areas for bocce, and a kids playground.

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There were also lots of cool  varieties of trees growing, including many different varieties of citrus trees, palm trees and lots of amazing kinds of rhododendrons. There were very vibrant and lavish colour-coordinated gardens, usually surrounding some kind of sculpture. They also had picnicing lawns on rotation to preserve the grass. Royal parks are much better when they let the normal riffraff use them.

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Continuing our adventure we walked over to the nearby Panthèon. Now, today was – everything is free in Paris day – and it’s a good thing too because the Pantheon kinda sucked and I’m glad I didn’t pay money to see it. Granted, it was under construction for good reason, it’s basically falling apart, but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to pay admission. The dome, probably one of the most amazing things about the Panthèon was not only closed for renovations, but they covered it with this horrible sheet that had a print out of a bunch of people’s faces on it. I don’t really get it. It probably would have looked better and less distracting if they just put a sheet overtop.

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They also removed Foucault’s pendulum (created and installed at the Panthèon by Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth) though its just a copy and the real one is at Arts et Métiers. It would have been nice to see it set up where it was originally used! They also have huge temporary walls set up with information about various historical figures. This is nice I guess but they’re covering up the massive and awesome frescoes that are in situ! Also, people, please stop touching artworks. I don’t understand why people feel the need to get greasy, dirty fingerprints all over ancient frescoes. Be polite! I managed to see the collection of frescoes depicting Joan of Arc which were very nice, even though they were basically hidden behind these temporary walls!

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read right to left : angels tell Joan to go fight, Joan goes to fight,
Joan gets Charles VII crowned, Joan is martyred.

The Panthèon was originally intended to be a  church dedicated to St. Geneviève, but after the revolution was changed to a mausoleum for the interment of distinguished French citizens. Many important figures are interred here, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Victor Hugo,  Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, Jean-Paul Marat, and some famous mathies such as Gaspard Monge, Lazare Carnot and Joseph-Louis Lagrange. Unfortunately, all of the adornments were missing from the mausoleum as they just completed refinishing the walls and most of the tombs were either completely empty of being used for storage. For shame! Regardless, Rousseau and Voltaire’s tombs were still available to see and were very impressive. Afterwards, we stopped in at Paroisse Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas to check out their lovely church and learn about its construction from a lovely woman who spoke to us in really simple terms once we explained we didn’t speak French very well.

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Moving on, we grabbed a quick lunch and biked down the Seine to the Place de la Concorde (the largest square in Paris) to check out its famous fountains and Egyptian Obelisk. We then headed up the Champs d’Élysées and got stuck behind a giant group of cycling enthusiasts who were biking from London to Paris. Good on them, but they were really slow. I’ve heard much about this area and its fabulous high end shopping.. but man did I ever feel poor as I passed haute-couture store after haute-couture store, zipping past personal limos waiting for high class shoppers. Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada.. just one after another like some kind of twilight zone. We ducked away from the  Champs d’Élysées towards that big pointy tower thing.. what’s it called..

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The nice thing about La Tour Eiffel is that you can walk around underneath it and truly appreciate its size. Its not often you can do this at a large building or monument, I think, nor can you look inside the walls to see its structure. That being said it doesn’t make a for a good umbrella, so when the storm rolled in we had to duck in a nearby doorway to escape the downpour. The tower would have been more romantic, I think.

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Sometimes, even when you make the effort to get nice veg on the way home to make a nice dinner, you get home and realize that you’re so fucking hungry you just eat bread and cheese until you pass out to watch Futurama for the rest of the night. I was going to say something judgmental about that.. but it’s pretty good, actually.

IMG_7061just another day in Paris

le chant interrompu

Usually, long after my SO has gone to bed, I’m up late blogging or editing photos or working working on some kindof arty thing. Unfortunately the little time we have to share together gets minimized when I sleep in and miss breakfast. So after staying up past 4am I woke up around 7:30 with my SO to try and adjust my schedule. Yeah. So to keep myself from lounging around and being sleepy I decided it would be a good idea to go out and see the sights!

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After passing by a few vélib stations that only had seriously broken-down bikes I finally found a mostly usable vélo and made my way downtown. I’m kindof getting the hang of the street layout, but I have to make a serious effort to bear right more than I think I should have to. Otherwise I always end up in the west end. Alas, as they say; All roads lead to.. the Bastille.

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giant lampost-baby mocks your pathetic sense of direction! muhaha!

Oh well. I ditched my vélo and tried to find a landmark that I knew was nearby : Place des Vosges. I had read about it that morning, but didn’t really look into it because I didn’t think I would be in that end of town. After a little searching, we found each other. Places des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris, built in 1612 by Henri IV. There is a fine statue of Louis XIII, erected in 1818 to replace the original which was melted down during the Revolution. The surrounding buildings are all the same, made of red brick with white stone stripes and vaulted arches.

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look at the trees! they match the square’s perfect squareness!

The garden’s weren’t really that impressive, they were tidy but very modest, and all of the fountains were turned off. Even so there were still hordes of art students sitting in the grass drawing the fountain fixtures and possibly the maintenance workers. On my way out I passed a number of expensive restaurants and small art galleries, one of which featured the same kind of optical illusion I saw in the Escher museum in Amsterdam. I love those!!

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Making my way through the fifth, I ended up on Rue Étienne Marcel and biked around for a while looking for a vélib station that had a free spot. My next stop was the Jardin des Tuileries, the much hyped-up 70 acre palace gardens originally created by Catherine de Medici in 1564. The gardens here are absolutely massive and highly manicured. All trees are clipped to a certain size, the flowers are grown in neat rows deposited smack in the middle of neatly trimmed perfectly carpeted grass.. and of course there’s a little fence around anything growing so you cant ever go near it.

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This place is so perfectly organized  I find it a bit stressful rather than relaxing. However the locals seem to love it and there’s no lack of green chair to sit and relax. I don’t know if today was fountain cleaning day or what, but there weren’t any fountains on, except for one you could smell a mile away. It was one of those boring ones where a jet just shoots some water straight into the air, so of course there are lots of tiny particles of water misting around the area. Normally, this would be kindof nice but this was the most disgusting fountain I have ever seen. I believe it was originally some type of koi pond because there were almost imperceptible orange blobs swimming around in the brown muck. It smelled like a stagnant pool /hobo bath house.

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That being said, if you can find a tiny building to duck into on the west end of the garden, it contains a nice garden-related bookstore! I managed to find a book written by a rosa-horticultural genius David Austin discussing the various types of heirloom roses and their history! Awesome! David Austin roses are my favourite and someday… someday I will grow my own!

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you’re welcome for not taking a picture of the hobo bath house

For a garden there was very little beauty of nature. However, there were some nice statues, and the Louvre peeking out at the end of the garden isn’t a bad thing to look at. Also, I really like all the street crossings nearby because you can tell who has been walking around the Tuileries due to the dusty white footprints they leave on the pavement.

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My favourite new saying is “c’est parfait!”. I usually say it as a nicety when people do things for me, like put together my order at the boulangerie, bag my purchases at the magasin, or help me mail things at the post office. I’ve been saying it so much, I even say it when bad things happen, like when the strap on my purse gets caught around a barrier-post and I nearly go flying, or when I get wedged in some inescapable bike lane between trucks and some douche has parked his motorbike directly across the whole lane. C’est parfait! Granted I’ve been known to be a little insincere.

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 Moving on, I then biked down the eastern part of Ave. Champs-Élysées, checking out some nice canal views, while trying to bike as rule-abidingly as I could infront of the massive amounts of police for some reason, and eventually found my way to the Petit Palais. It’s exactly what you might think. It’s a little palace. It’s across the street from a bigger palace. But down the road from the even bigger palace. I don’t know what in Paris wasn’t once a palace.

IMG_6972wait, thats the petit palace? ok don’t look across the street then.

Everything in that neighborhood is just enormous grand architecture built by some king-or-another and probably has some cool history with the revolution(s). I don’t know if you’re meant to tour Paris this long.. because eventually it all just mashes itself into one big fancy building and I’m not impressed anymore. Well, not entirely. If you get tired of looking at nice buildings from the outside, just head on in because damn it’s nice inside too!

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The Petit Palais is now an art gallery and admission is free. Always. There was lots of Courbet, whom I never liked, but I got to spend some time in the courtyard imagining what it might be like to live in a place like this, and in the basement found some really nice paintings made by people I’ve never heard of.

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The first painting that really caught my eye was “Jean Carriès dans son atelier” (Louise Breslau), 1887. Breslau was a German-Swiss painter who achieved much success in Paris until the First World War, and afterwards in Switzerland. She won the World Fairs gold medal in 1900 and in 1901 became a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the third woman and first foreign woman to do so. The subject of her painting was a young artist, Carriès whose imaginative and often horrific sculptures captivated much attention. Carriès’ work is said to be a “junction between tradition and modernity [… and that he] spent his life pursuing an artistic ideal that the plastic covers genuine metaphysical event” 1. The thing that struck me most about this painting is the light and lively treatment of the subject matter, and the depiction of the artist’s process. I don’t know how you can depict creativity, but she’s done it!

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Another lovely work is “Ophélie” (Paul Albert Steck), 1894. The story of Ophelia (Hamlet) is romantic and tragic, and is one depicted frequently in paintings. The majority of these paintings show the drowned (or drowning) Ophelia from above the waterline, however Steck’s depiction is completely submerged, allowing the viewer to be more involved in the experience. The treatment of the underwater scene is gentle and flowing, the tendrils of aquatic plants mimicking her long hair as if to indicate her impending anchoring to the bottom of the lake. The attention paid to the texture of the bubbles, fabric and flower petals is really as lovely as it is haunting.

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man, I didn’t know santa was a dutch woman

Farther on down the basement corridor there is a small chamber adorned with plenty of nice Dutch paintings including “The interrupted song” (Frans van Mieris “the younger”), 1671. The small painting depicts a young woman who previously was preoccupied with singing a song (as indicated by the sheet music in her lap) but is interrupted by a man offering her a drink. There are a number of fine elements in this painting painted in delicate and loving detail, such as the vase of flowers, the sleeping dog on the cushion, the twinkle of light on the glass, and the satiny texture of her gown. The inclusion of a dog in Dutch paintings often is meant to indicate fidelity, and the husband offers his wife a symbolically full glass. Indeed, the entire work is very finely crafted with much love and devotion. “This style of painting has undertones of gallantry, with the association of music and love so common in Dutch painting of the 17th century representing the artist and his wife Cunera van der Cock (1629/1630 – 1700). It also illustrates the theme of the five senses” 2.

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After my palais excursion I decided it would be a good idea to start heading back towards downtown, while following the Seine of course. There are a number of nice parks and greenspace surrounding the petit and grand palais to check out. Included was a nice bas relief with (non smelly) koi pond.. and birds!

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I also managed to find a bagel shop that has fantastically amazing bagels. They also have humerous photos on the wall and signed pictures of celebrities, which I think are jokes because the majority of them just has a funny caption written on. They also say they’ve been in business since 1789 and if you check that out on their website they have a hilarious family tree of “bagelsteins” with photos ranging from astronauts to folks in straight jackets.. and enviably many “paninis” and “sandweeches” married in to the family. Awesome atmosphere, even awesomer food… I managed to get mine just before the queue exploded.

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Oh, and I also managed to find a very cool floral archway. The florists were busy not only creating it but taking pictures for people who wanted to pose with it. I opted for an OP-less photo.

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1 http://www.latribunedelart.com/jean-carries-la-matiere-de-l-etrange

2 http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en/collections/interrupted-song

le jardin de fleurs dans l’après-midi

If you can manage to find your way around Gare St. Lazare and actually manage to get some kind of ticket for Vernon then you must be some kind of wizard. Never underestimate the overwhelming confusion of foreign train stations. We ended up missing our train by about thirty seconds and had to wait around for two hours for the next one. Oops! That being said having to walk to the nearby Eglise de la Trinité courtyard and eat sandwiches while chatting on a lovely Saturday afternoon isn’t that bad at all. The train ride from Paris to Vernon is quite fast if you get a direct train (under an hour) and the trains themselves are pretty nice, which is definitely reflected in the price.

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We arrived in Vernon and, like everyone else on the train, headed for Monet’s estate in Giverny. There are a number of coaches and city buses that shuttle people to and from Giverny (just outside Vernon) but hoping to avoid some of the crowds we decided to walk. Through Vernon the streets are still very old and narrow, and despite heaving bombing during WWII many of the buildings have been maintained since medieval times.

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There are a number of memorials in Vernon commemorating the Second World War, the resistance movement and the liberation of Vernon. In correspondence with D-Day the Seine-Loire bridges were bombed so that German reinforcements and supplies would be impeded. The resistance movement in Vernon had succeed in driving the Germans out but were still under siege from across the Seine in Vernonnet. They held out until British troops arrived whose engineers hastily made a pontoon bridge allowing troops to cross and liberate Vernonnet. There were a number of bouquets laid on the memorials and the memory of the event is still honoured today.

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Crossing the Pont Clemenceau across the Seine, there are nice shaded footpaths and bike paths that go across and down the river, sandwiched between the sprawling banks and the parallel foothills. Finally arriving at Giverny, passing the ancient church and small houses, now converted B&B’s due to the influx of tourists, ducking between the tidy gated yards and wild french poppies, we waited patiently in the long entrance line.

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Monet’s house had fallen into a state of disrepair after his death in 1926. The estate had been left to Monet’s son Michel who then bequeathed the estate to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1977. The estate and gardens were restored to their historical state and opened to the public. The house itself, that which you are allowed to visit, is set up in a way that is confusing and awkward and cannot handle the massive amounts of visitors. However, if you can stand to, linger around and check out the amazing collection of Japanese prints.

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‘In the West what we admired most of all was this bold way of cropping images; these people taught us to compose differently’, Monet told the Duc de Trévise. The Impressionists’ preference for a light tonality, for treating forms in bold masses, for abruptly juxtaposing patches of colour, and for suppressing unnecessary detail had an echo, or found its justification, in these Japanese prints. So did the screen-like, ‘open’ character of Monet’s compositions. In Japan, the genre of woodblock prints that so affected the Impressionists was called Ukiyo-e – ‘pictures of the floating world’. When Monet laid out his water garden at Giverny, his entire concept was Japanese-inspired – it too was a ‘floating world’. The green, humpbacked bridge over the waterlily pond (The waterlily pond  1900) seems to have had a Japanese prototype, possibly suggested by Utagawa Hiroshige’s woodblock print (Inside Kameido Tenjin shrine Japan, Edo period 1856). Hiroshige (1797–1858), an excellent landscapist, was also attracted to novel, fleeting effects” 1.

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I’m not sure the Monet Foundation has the rights to the prints and there is no photography allowed in the building. The collection was the most complete, stunning collection, particularly of Hiroshige Ando, as well as some Hokusai and other lesser known Ukio-e artists that I have seen!

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Outside the building there are amazingly large, full and sprawling gardens that Monet designed and subsequently hired seven gardeners to maintain. This time of year there are lots of late-bloomers showing off, especially the dahlias, of which there were dozens of varieties. There were lots of favourites that I got to enjoy, such as anemone, scabiosa, clematis, asclepia, celosia, soldiago, zinnias, fuschia, marigold, lady’s mantle, echinops, cosmos, gomphrena, saggitaria, papyrus, cosmos, hollyhocks, and snaps. The camellia bushes were extraordinarily large, though sadly the flowers weren’t open yet. There were also an amazing array of roses: tea roses, garden roses, climbing roses.. all to amazing heights and scents. Of course there were impressively huge and elegant japanese maples and weeping willows.

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The loveliest of all though are really they dahlias. There were so many varieties, with colours ranging from the palest blush to the most vibrant orange or deep blood-red.. and in every size imaginable. There were small almost spheres tightly packed with millions of petals, or enormous “dinner plate” dahlias whose amazing show of petals on such a fragile stem is really amazing. I really love these flowers and it was such a joy to be able to see them in such a lovely and plentiful array.

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There were a few other that are  more rare and I am not accustomed to seeing often, such as nerine, cuphea, oleander, campanula, genistra (what an amazing smell!), azalea, foxglove, nasturtium, and verbena bonariensis. There were also amazing late-blooming giant crosus dappled in the grass, the tallest grove of bamboo I have ever seen, and the lovely abyssinian gladiolus, which is often marketed back home as an orchid.. it’s not!

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Of course there were also  more common ones that are classics for a reason.. and these were surely fine specimens! Asiatic lilies, phlox, pampas grass (the most impressive!) begonia, geranium, heuchera, hyrangea, ipomoea, rudbeckia, aster, sedum, ruscus, salvia, lambs ear, and of course the coveted and jovial sunflower (tournesol).

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The majority of the tourists head straight for the water-lilies and japanese bridge, as these are some of the most famous aspects of Monet’s work. But if you take a stroll between the towering rudbeckia and butterfly-enticing asclepias, you will find many a gentle and nodding flower awaiting your happy gaze. You can also find buzzing bees, fancy chickens and if you’re quiet enough, fieldmice.

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Heading home from sleepy Giverny, we had to take a few transfers on the train but managed to make it back to the city without incident. From Gare St. Lazare we went to the west edge of town to meet some friends to watch the Grand Feu d’Artifice, or Big Fireworks! It’s supposedly the largest display in Europe. So, we stood on the Pont de Saint-Cloud and watched the brilliant display. All in all, a pretty good day for eye candy!

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1 http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/exhibitions/monet/monetslife.japaneseart.aspx