tour

normandie

When you have to catch an early train, it’s only natural that bar next door gets rented for some crazy hootenanny and the dj pumps music all night. What’s worse is the French love for disco and trying to sleep while they’re belting out showtunes or somesuch. That being said, waking up early enough to catch our train was aided by my excitement, a feeling reserved for trips, birthdays, Christmas and the the last day of school. I have become quite blasé about the latter three so I hope travelling never gets old. The ride to Caen is about two hours. Having not seen my S.O. basically at all during the week, the train ride went by all too fast, talking and joking the whole way, laughing so hard I had tears welling up and all my strength employed to avoid orangina shooting out my nose.

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We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Arriving at the station, we managed to figure out how to buy bus tickets to Courseulles-sur-mer despite the language barrier and not being able to find the station door. We had some time to kill after so we walked around downtown Caen, ending up at a église st-jean, complete with crazy modern stained glass and courtyard with late-blooming poppies. Back on the bus, which was more like a coach, we had a nice lolling sojourn through the northern countryside. It’s not uncommon to pass a world war cemetery in almost every town, neatly kept with straight rows of brilliant white crosses. The town themselves are pretty small and the houses almost exclusively stone with terracotta or slate roofing. The towns maintain a quiet old-world charm and of course, there is the perpetual church steeple poking out at rapid intervals.

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“here is the church, here is the steeple”

We slowly made our way into Courseulles-sur-mer, getting off at ‘Place de 6 juin’ the date, of course, of D-Day. The square is the very centre of town, where the pier, boardwalk, each access, carrousel and town monument meet. There is a croix de lorraine just across the quay to commemorate the return of Charles de Gaulle to France 14 June, 1944. We arrived at high tide, the brisk and salty sea air greeting us with pleasant acquaintance.

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At the centre of the square is a Canadian Sherman tank, pulled from the frigid waters of ‘Juno’ beach some 25 years after it sank during the commencement of operation Overlord. It was of course cleaned and restored, now adorned with the insignia of the troops that fought and died here including the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Rifle Regiment, Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. The tank itself is now enveloped in a pillow of flowers, often red and white organized into the Canadian flag. Also placed nearby is a German Kwk 39 anti-tank gun with obvious signs of battle damage, also restored.

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For it’s early in the morning and I’m far, far away.

Making our way to the Juno beach centre, we waited for the swing bridge to let some sailboats in and we checked out the catch of the day, at the plethora of stalls erected right beside the fishing boats docked in the river. Arriving at the centre you can hear the waves crashing along the shore, the gentle breeze rustling the long grasses. The landscape has long since returned to tranquility, though the centre acts as a reminder to us the events of the war.

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Juno Beach Centre

The tour begins with footage of the landing and an audio representation of that the soldiers would have heard preparing to land on the beach, the sound of the sea spraying over the boat, heavy artillery exploding and rumbling nearby.. the tour encourages you to also learn about Canada’s fragile military and economy predating the war to further appreciate the difficulty lying ahead.

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The centre of the tour had a trove of information about the different ships, tanks, aircraft, formations, payload, propaganda, home front and war effort from a Canadian perspective. It was absolutely fascinating to discover the attack and defence strategies, and certain difficulties unique to north america such as trans-atlantic transportation of supplies and how to diminish u-boat damage. Also, that Canada went from having basically no air force to the 4th largest during wartimes. We also attended an emotional video giving an in depth detailing of the Juno beach events.

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The final room was a relievingly lighthearted Canada factoids room for those not acquainted with our culture. There was a great amount of hockey gear and curling rocks, let me tell you. It was my great pleasure to encounter other Canadians accessing the tour. You can easily pick them out because if they want to get by you while you’re looking at something they linger first trying to wait for you to finish what you’re doing, then slip by you giving ample berth while saying “sorry”. There were also a lot of toques.

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the shepherd will tend his sheep, the valley will bloom again

We also attended a tour of two recently excavated German bunkers. The first was built early in the occupation so it was not built as a defensive post but to aid in the organization of potential invasion of England to the north. The structure was built using French labourers and whatever materials they had on hand, some parts brick, some concrete, even railway ties for beams. It is speculated that the French tried to sabotage the building by placing the cinder blocks on their sides so the walls would have hollow pockets. The walls also had wood interlaced for hanging up maps and fixtures.We also visited a bunker built much later in the war, at a time when German occupation of France was shakier and they were preparing heavy defensive fortifications.

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escape hatch

This bunker by contrast is solid cement, with two heavy metal doors that double as a gas proof chamber, a gun slit facing the only entrance and 365 degree parascope. Our guide told us that it was expected of soldiers to do 36 hour shifts in the bunker so there were also fold down beds and a small stove for comfort. The bunker walls are 3 metres solid concrete and the only emergency exit was a small tunnel filled in with sand, so if you were trapped at least you could start digging your way out. Apparently in allied training it was instilled that if you see a grate or opening into a building that you should throw in a grenade to clear the room before entering. Once the Germans caught on to this practice their bunkers, as this one did, had false grates installed that lobbed the grenade back out at the intruder. It was also equipped with a gun nest, each pointed on angles across to beach to create crossfire.

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In 1944 the bunker was right on the water and locals can remember as children jumping off the parascope into the sea, but nowadays the beach has shifted greatly and there is now a barrier of sand in front of the bunkers so you have to use your imagination a bit to picture how the beach looked way back then. We finished our tour on the shore where we got to see the buoy indicating the shoreline at low tide, which is much farther out. Upon deployment, the entire beach was riddled with anti tank and anti personnel mines some 5 ft apart, blockades, razor wire creating what was dubbed a “devil’s garden”.

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Just before deployment there was heavy bombardment to reduce the German numbers by an estimated 60% though in effect only reached 5-15 % depending on the area. Despite the odds, the fortifications on the beach were overcome and the troops moved inland to liberate Courseulles-sur-mer. The Canadian troops lost 356 men, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner, though the losses were lower than estimated from the devastation of its predecessor mission operation Jubilee in Dieppe. Despite the difficulties and objective failures Juno beach alongside Utah is considered to be the most strategically successful of the D-Day landings. Walking the sands where such a critical and painful battle was fought is truly a moving experience. The land is now so beautiful and the town so gentle and quiet it is hard to imagine what it was like, which is why I personally believe it’s important to keep listening to the stories and remember the sacrifices made.

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We made our way around town to to our rented room. We decided to try out airbnb for the first time. We got a private room with key in an old converted garage with facilities shared with the homeowner. Our host was very nice and accommodating. I did my best to speak French and we understood most of what the other was trying to say. Airbnb is of course much less expensive than a hotel which suits us just fine. That being said any money we saved on the room we probably promptly spent at the most hit-or-miss restaurant I believe I’ve ever been to.

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We decided since we were “on vacation” that weekend we would live a little, by which I mean order a drink with dinner. Big spenders! We both got the house cocktail which turned out to be cheap champagne spiked with curacao and a generous profit-margin of juice topped with a stale candy and sugar rim. It has got to be one of the worst drinks I’ve ever had. Next came the complimentary bread. It’s basically expected to get free bread with your meal here, and being France the bread is always fresh and delicious. So when I tell you that the bread was so stale that no pigeon would eat if you can see why we started to become suspicious of this place. Next came the complimentary appetisers brought out to us by the chef. Maybe the chef should spend more time cooking and less time schmoozing because the only thing the app was good for was a raised eyebrow and hearty laugh. I think they were supposed to be maki.. I think. Being by the sea didn’t help this dish any. I think it contained rice that was made three years ago that they found behind the radiator. Or it might have been tiny pebbles, I’m not sure. If you go to pick up your app and it crumbles into a pile of dust you know something is wrong.

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However, next came the oysters. Thankfully all they had to do was open them for me to enjoy a wonderfully delicious treat fresh from the sea. SO had some kindof yummy bouillabaisse. It was stewier than most but he seemed to like it. Our main was some kind of tiny braised fish on a bed of lentils, which were quite yummy. The fish was decent. For dessert? Bread pudding. Now I’ll give them a break because it’s not a french dish. That being said, they’re only a stone’s throw from England and also bread pudding is easy, who can’t make that? They took a slice of old bread, presumably the same stuff they served before dinner and instead of soaking it in cream to make it soppy and delicious they kindof.. toasted it? Then drizzled cream on top? I’m not quite sure what was happening there but the tiny after dinner mints were good. Here’s a tip to enjoying a shitty restaurant : a) don’t read the bill too closely cause you’ll just get mad b) make fun of everything relentlessly.

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croix de lorraine

Anyway, late in the day the tide was going out and the inlets had become rapids. We strolled along the now widened beach to tiptoe thru the seaweed and find cool shells. We wandered home and settled in for a good night’s sleep, lulled by the patter of rain that amazingly decided to be nice and hold off until we were tucked in.

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Our host was still asleep when we left early, trying to get a leg up on our journey back to Paris. The bus took us on the reversed journey, this time the cities quieter and more cars at the church parking lots. Arriving at Caen we stopped first for pain au raisin before heading up to the Chateau de Caen. The Chateau is an 11th century fortification buit by William the Conqueror. It saw several engagements during the Hundred Year’s war, and the keep pulled down during the French revolution. It was also used as a barracks during WWII and was heavily bombed at that time. It is one of the largest castles in western Europe.

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Caen

It now houses two museums and a church, and you can see the ruins of other structures such as the keep, William’s residence, ramparts and curtain walls, and the two fortified doors. There is still ongoing work to excavate the bottom of the walls and more ruins are still being uncovered. The walls are incredibly high and you can peer thru the bow slits into what would have been a moat, though these days just grass. The stone stairs heading up the ramparts and towers are so worn from literally a century of use they are very curved.

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super neat.

It’s a huge area which was great fun to explore. The art gallery at the top houses a nice collection from many eras in French history, which matches beautifully with the lineage of the castle. Afterwards, we strolled around town, the majority of stores being closed but lounging in parks and cafés is not a bad way to spend your afternoon. We finished off the day at a nice restaurant in an old area of town on rue du vaugueux ie) beggars row.

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It’s a small and narrow pedestrian street with old shifting houses, once known for squalor and crime. It also once housed a bar owned by Edith Piaf’s grandparents, and the woman who murdered Marat. It now houses a number of nice restaurants while maintaining the enclosed medieval structures. We had some nice wine, confit du canard, terrine de poissons, croustillants de chèvre chaud and ile flottante which is a whipped meringue cake soaked in thin caramel sauce. I really need to learn to make this back home! Before having to catch our train back we made sure to watch the sun set behind the glimmering houses from the parapet.

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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!

Jeanne au bûcher

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

Ave Maria, gratia plena

So I spent my morning practicing what I would say to the cobber when I dropped off my shoes. Désolé, je ne parle pas très bien le Français, mais j’ai besoin des nouvelles talons pour ces chaussures, s’il vous plaît. Instead, I chickened out and just pointed pathetically to my broken and nodded in agreement when he said “ah, talons”. Pathetic! I’m so afraid that I’ll just say something totally wrong and get myself into some larger pit of embarrassment so I usually just say at little as possible. Anyway, once my cobbler adventure was completed one way or the other I walked around Belleville until I found the nearest available vélo, which wasn’t really that close. The vélib is great until you need one straight away, in which case you might be in a bind. That being said nothing bad would happen if I didn’t go anywhere today, so I biked around and got sufficiently lost again. I’m used to kindof following the grid of a city, and so long as you even out your rights and lefts you end up pretty much where you intended to. Not so with Paris. The roads, which quite often have six or more streets converging on one intersection, often meander this way and that. So, it’s easy somehow to just drift in some direction. So when I realized I was off course, and my vélib time was probably up soon, I traded in my tires for walking shoes and trotted around the Place de la Bastille a while.

IMG_6433sble bark.

I then grabbed another vélo to finish my journey ending up just shy of the Louvre. Now, there are of course lots of nice shops in Paris, but there is certainly lots of excellent window-shopping to be had, or as the French say, “léche-vitrines” : literally, window-licking. Ew! I usually see lots of nice things but can contain myself enough to just keep walking. However, sometimes I see something so intriguing I must duck in and check it out! This is how I ended up filling my purse with new chemises before I even got to the Louvre. Oh well, I know if it fits in my bag I can take it in. Score! Also, there was a super line of people queuing for the Louvre, and I got to walk right in. My membership pass makes me feel better than the average tourist! Ha!

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Now, when I check the weather report in the morning before I get dressed, it usually says something like, mostly sunny, high of 22°, low of 14° or something like that. To me, this means its pretty nice but not all that warm. So I wore pants and a long shirt and boots. I almost wore a scarf too. Turns out for whatever reason, 22° is a hell of a lot hotter here than back in Canada. After biking and walking for the better part of the morning I can tell you I arrived at the Louvre uncomfortably sweaty, a problem no amount of ice cream could fix.

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I spent most of my time madly scribbling in front of the painting I had gone all the way there to see, while I could feel my face burning up and any shred of dry shirt give up resisting. It was dreadfully busy, as the queue should have been an indication of. Now, when I look at a painting, I like to start dead on, about 10 feet back or so, depending on the size of the piece. Then, I like to move side to side to check out how the lighting is rigged and how it illuminates the work differently from different angles. Then, I like to get really close and check out small details and admire the handiwork. Then I usually step back as much as need be so I can take it all in. This is my process, and it suits me. So when I have to elbow in between people holding up iPhones /to take pictures, or waving their umbrella in front as they rudely gesture to their companion who can’t hear them over the screeching sounds of their 3DS with the audio guide volume up too loud, I’m not very happy. Not that I expect a private audience with the work, but there’s no air to breathe. There’s no stepping back to admire the work. Literally. You just walk up really close, take a crummy cell phone picture, wave your umbrella and move on. So I usually have to wait for the crowds to clear up a bit to spend some quality time with a work. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to step a few feet back from a painting to enjoy, and sometimes other people will come up and kindof clue in and do the same, which is awesome (and I silently congratulate them on getting what I consider to be an improved experience) then some annoying person will just stand right infront. I don’t usually find people annoying enough to consider making a scene.. unless you arrive at a quiet family beach blasting music and loudly jeering and cursing at two fighting hermit crabs. Then I will seriously consider having a stern word with you, but will usually elect to give you a dirty look. Or many. Ok, turns out I’m not that fearsome.

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Many years ago I came to Paris and in my naïvité tried to see the whole Louvre in an afternoon. I didn’t even make it out of Greek sculpture before I couldn’t walk without shuffling pathetically and wincing in pain. But wait! I heard there’s also some paintings in here..! That being said I saw this painting first in a gift shop as a poster (don’t judge me!). It was only a section of the larger fresco, and not knowing anything about it, it reminded me of two sisters on some adventure, which spoke volumes to me. So I bought it and hung it in my house for many years. This year when I moved, the old poster was so decrepit that I decided it was time to pitch it. Very sad. So I endeavoured to spend some time with it today. I’ve learned from my old ways and now I just go to the Louvre to visit just a couple of friends then say à la prochaine! Still, I usually end up with sore feet.

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå Gallerix.ru

Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman, 1485. Alessandro FILIPEPI, dit Sandro BOTTICELLI. This fresco is from the Villa Lemmi, a property near Florence that belonged to the Tornabuoni family. “This decorative work may have been commissioned from Botticelli to mark the marriage of a member of this influential Florentine Dynasty. […] This fresco is one of a set of three discovered under a coat of whitewash in the loggia of the Villa Lemmi in 1873. The Louvre purchased two of them; the third, being too badly damaged, remained in situ”. 1

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå Gallerix.ruMoon maidens

The fresco, which is in very poor condition, is in the corridor directly to the right of the Winged Victory. The corridor has very little lighting, relying almost entirely on diffuse ambient light from the windows across the way. It is very dark in there, presumably to protect what remains of the fresco. Taking that into account, it is not overwhelming in its presence. A great deal of works here have bright lights shining down on lustrous and glossy paint (I would argue there is often too much light, but that’s for another time). This work however, is so unassuming I’m sure everyone would walk by if they hadn’t already been tipped off by the gift shop that it’s worth looking at. There is already very little contrast, the colours very dim and hazy, and large pieces are missing from this work. Keep in mind it was under layers of whitewash which was  removed many years later. Yipes. The composition itself is not very overwhelming either, it is very basic one point perspective, the scene contained by a simple niche. The figures are larger than life and precariously dancing above us in this elevated scene. It is difficult to approach this work in a personal sense, but we admire from below. The loveliness of this work is in the delicate faces. The graces are simply beautiful in their exquisite features, not overdone or expressive, they just quietly glow in their wistful elegance. As much as I miss my beloved poster (which was of the two leftmost graces), I never got the chance to admire the third grace who is by far the loveliest. All three of them are clad in simple robes, which either by the hand of the artist or by father time lack depth and substance. Yet, flow so delicately, as if they experience less gravity than us earthlings, somehow. Yet there is a beautiful thing that doesn’t really come across in the reproductions; the gold leaf embroidery on their gowns.

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A great deal of work from this time has gold leaf, mostly in religious works, but this nice addition is another decorous glowing touch. The woman receiving the gifts wears a necklace with three charms. I wonder if this is a hint at the graces or just coincidence. Her gaze is not directed at the graces, nor at Venus, but upwards over all of them, signifying something higher demanding her attention?

“Goddess of love, Venus also embodied the quest for the knowledge that brings immortality for the soul. The Graces, according to Seneca, stand for the threefold aspect of generosity: the giving, receiving, and returning of gifts or benefits. […] Through the intervention of Venus, the woman on the right is being given access to Ideal Beauty and the world of ideas. She represents the mere mortal: almost cumbersomely tall, she stands in marked contrast with the impression of lightness emanating from the Graces. Her direct, impenetrable gaze seems to skim over the deities without actually registering them. The material character of the gift she is receiving matters little: the artist’s emphasis is on the act of giving. […] This fresco represents the culmination of Botticelli’s development of philosophical concepts: stripped of all excess ornament, it offers us a world of ideas in which line and color shape the absolute domain of beauty”. 2

Venus herself is looking at the gift, which the Louvre website says is a bouquet of flowers.. but to me just looks like a glowing ball of nothing. If anyone can help me out on that one, that would be great. The cherub, which literally is cut off due to damage in the work is also compositionally cut off from the rest of the figures, offers little addition. Though, his gaze is at the floor at their feet, which I also find interesting in some inexpressible way. It is not clear what the cherub is carrying, I think it is some kind of shield but it is really difficult to tell from the lack of remaining plaster.

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå Gallerix.ruAVE GRÃ. PLENA

I also wanted to talk about a very lovely painting I found while trying to find a quiet corridor to escape to in the Louvre (tall order). Madonna and Child with SS. Zenobius(?), John the Baptist, Anthony Abbott and Francis of Assisi. c.1455-57, by Francesco di STEFANO dit Pesellino. This painting was the predella to an altarpiece for the Novitiates’ Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. It was commissioned by Cosimo de Medici. The main panel of the altarpice was an Virgin and Child with Four Saints by Filippo Lippi. The predella panels are now divided between the Louvre and the Uffizi.

The thing that struck me about this piece was the open-air ceiling. Instead of an interior scene (read : enclosure), the scene is given the ability to lift up and extend to the heavens. The thing that I thought was kindof weird about this one were the tops of the trees poking up over the walls and through the windows. I have a thing about trees and I see sentimental symbolism everywhere they turn up. So when I see them poking into a religious scene, I start to ask questions. Why not just have the blue heavens extending above? Why literally root the scene to the earth? Because it is the tops of the trees I get the feeling that the artist is hinting at the fact that there is a permanent location (Earth) that is being left in the ascension. It’s the act of leaving, not having left or will leave. Just as the Eagle flies from the treetop to soar closer to the heavens so are we encouraged to do. Neat, huh.

urlWhy are you all starin’ at me like that? Is there something on my face?

Just as a quick note, I’d like to show you quickly La Vierge et l’Enfant en majesté entourés de six anges, 1280 by Cenni di Pepe dit (Giovanni) CIMABUE. This painting was originally in the church of San Francesco in Pisa but was plundered by Napoleonic troops and taken to Paris. This painting is awesome, but I’m not going into it now. I just want to show it as a companion to the Stefano Madonna, to show the aesthetic differences in style. You can see a huge difference in the complete lack of depth and perspective, and a complete lack of scale. I mean, really, that Madonna is a giant. But that’s the point. It’s not a literal depiction of real people it’s there to tell a story and the Madonna and Child is the whole point of this one (and lots of other ones let me tell you). The angels are organized in a linear fashion rather than how a group of people would normally look. And they are appear straight on, without deviation in their posture. Comparatively the figures in the Stefano Madonna assume more believable, more human postures and gestures, even turning away.

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Something interesting I found is an analysis of the composition of the Cimabue, is how the Madonna takes up the middle half of the paintings, and the angels take the first and last quarter, respectively. Also, (if it were a true rectangle and) if you drew lines from the corners they would intersect her heart. Not that the anyone can tell all this without getting out a ruler but still the composition of a work can give you clues to interpretation you aren’t even consciously aware of.

Even so, the Cimabue Madonna is even breaking from Byzantine formalism and has more realistic expressions that others in its’ time. It “seeks to renew the pictorial language to detach rigid canons of Byzantine style. [It] shows a caring approach better reflects the reality of sensitivity3. But given the huge difference in stylistic changes occurring in this short amount of time (less than 200 years), it’s clear the move towards realistic depiction of biblical scenes, often firmly anchored in the reality of earthly existence, which is why I think I am so struck by the Stefano Madonna. It helps me to approach religious depiction, something to which I appreciate very little but absolutely admire in its splendor.

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I also managed to traverse the Louvre’s second floor library and picked up some fascinating things that I had intended on delving into tonight, but given the hour I might just put it off until tomorrow. Might.

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1, 2 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/venus-and-three-graces-presenting-gifts-young-woman
3 http://www.louvre.fr/oeuvre-notices/la-vierge-et-lenfant-en-majeste-entoures-de-six-anges
4 http://theswedishparrot.com/maesta-3-la-maesta-du-louvre-par-cimabue-giovanni-cenni-di-pepe/

les canaux

I was up late last night writing. By the time I had written out all my thoughts for the day, it was 3am.. and that was before I had begun to write my analysis of the artwork I had seen that day. So I put the laptop away and eventually got to sleep, as visions of paintbrushes danced in my head. Then of course the, er, mid-morning sun kickstarted my desire to just start spewing art analysis again. I thought and I looked, I typed and I erased, I read and I quoted, I edited and I rewrote. Then I had some baguette and jam. Then I copied and I pasted, I formatted and I coded, I resized and I resaved, I drafted and I reread, I published and I modified. Then after 5 more hours I decided it was good enough. Not great, but good enough. I really need start spacing out my Louvre visits if I’m ever going to get anything done.

Now it was coming up on 4pm and we hadn’t decided on anything to to today. It’s Saturday, after all. I can’t just stay in typing, can I? I was looking at the Paris canal cruises recently and remembered that some of them are just until the end of August, and this being the last weekend in August we figured it would be good. Plus who wouldn’t like sitting on a boat for a few hours watching the world go by?

IMG_6427I don’t dislike you, I nothing you

This is by far the longest and strangest tour I have ever been on. Turns out, which I should have thought through, the canal tour goes from the 19th to downtown, which is down a big big hill. This means, lots of locks. Lots and lots. And by lots, I mean there were like 20 of them. And locks take forever to empty. So this crazy tour consisted basically of us moving forward 50 ft and then sitting around for 15 minutes, the repeating again and again. The first couple of locks were kindof nice, the first big one was reaaally big, and people walking around on the street kindof gathered to watch it go, which was fun. Then, the next couple were nice as we got to watch people milling about on the quays; picnicing, playing bocce or ping pong, cycling, dog walking. After a while, it got pretty tedious, especially when the view of the quays changed to makeshift hobo shanties and piles of garbage. Plus, not to nitpick, but the tour was advertised as completely bilingual but there were only about 10 words in English thrown in for every 100 French words. I know I can’t expect to hear things in English here… but when it’s advertised..! Ah, now we’ve gone down 24 metres. Now we can get going. Hey, what’s this cool underpass? Oh this is neat.. and dark… hey how far does it go? Oh, half the length of the tour, great. Really, what a shame that any traversing of the downtown/historical area is completely underground in a damp, dark cobbled tube. Oh well, being forced to do nothing but sit with my SO for 2.5h and point and laugh at things, not so bad!

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Trapped on a ship with me..

Once we emerged from our our *ahem* adventure, we decided to get on a vélib and try to make our way uphill. I got about halfway before I decided I needed a break, so we parked our vélos and walked around the 20th enjoying the buzz of Parisian nightlife spilling out onto the streets. We also found a place that has honestly the best falafel I’ve ever had. Score! We wandered around some more until we found the energy to bike the rest of the way home.

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