Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I walk to the Louvre under gray skies on a very brisk morning. The walk is pleasant though as it gives me a chance to see a side of Paris visitors rarely get to see. The streets are nearly empty and there is little traffic. It is peaceful and quiet, a rarity in a normal busy city.
Our group meets under I.M. Pei’s magnificent pyramid. I find that several of the people I was with on last years tour of the British Museum have join this one and so I have some familiar faces in addition to the new ones. I am a bit dismayed to discover that I am easily the youngest person present.
We will spend the first day of our tour in the Grande Gallerie, studying the evolution of European painting from Byzantine thru the Renaissance to the Baroque. There are no sightings of Dan Brown or Tom Hanks. Whew!
This part of the museum has always been very difficult for me due to the heavy concentration of works with a biblical theme and today is no different. Dr. Hunt does a great job showing the evolution of styles, from the flat, two-dimensional work of early Christian themes to three-dimensional themes with landscaping, perspective and real people. Still, the limited thematic arc of the Crucifixion and Trinity makes me want to scream, as does the idea that Jesus and Mary were ethically from Scandinavia and not Palestine.

About the photos:
1. The death of Cleopatra reimagined. Is the snake biting her or suckling her?
2. A playful cat.
3. The chaos around the Mona Lisa.
4. Cupid about to ensnare Paris and Helen.
5. Grandfather with Grandson. One of the first pictures to break from the tradition of Christian themes and use perspective and distance in the background.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I arrive in Paris early on a cool raining morning. My flights have been the best kind – uneventful.
On the train into town I sit near a family with a couple of children. As I am exiting the train station the gates close after I go thru but before my bag does, trapping it in the gates and leaving one of the children on the other side of the gate from the rest of his family. Trouble already.
The gates have trapped my bag so strongly I cannot get it out. The couple, realizing that their son cannot get thru without me getting out of the way, assist, each of them grabbing a part of the gate and trying to pull it open. The gates don’t move and I can neither go forward nor back. I give up on trying to pull my bag thru the gate and begin trying to push it back. With great effort the bag begins to move and eventually I get it back on the wrong side of the gate. However, I think I may have bent the handle in all the effort. (As it turns out, I did, and in trying to fix it later I hear an ominous snap – I have broken the handle. This will surely be trouble on my return.) The couple helps to open a door from a side that I cannot and I escape the station. Whew!
I reach my hotel with no further difficulty and at check in am informed that my room will not be ready for at least 4 hours (it is now 9.30am). Great! I leave my bag at the desk and venture out to kill four hours. I begin to wander without any real plan. Quickly I encounter a small framers market, the sights and smells of which remind me of all those wonderful days visiting the market in Uzes with Alex and her family.
Eventually I wander across the river and around Notre Dame. I have never liked this cathedral but it could be a place to sit and rest and stay out of the rain. The front façade is very beautiful but the inside in dark, dank and dirty. I liked the idea of this being a “Temple of Reason” far more than a Christian church. I sit down and watch all of the tourists ignoring the signs that say do not take pictures using your flash.
After a few minutes a woman begins to ask questions about my camera. She tells me that she is from Denmark and that she is putting together a publication on current events from a feminist perspective and that I must be a contributor. She also says that she just met the man she is talking to and it seems to me that she is collecting strangers. I quietly decline to join in. I am reassured that all is right in my world as it is clear that my weirdo magnet is now fully functional. I take a few pictures to remind me why I don’t like this place and leave.
Outside the queue to get in has grown very long and I laugh to myself thinking what a waste of time that is. Across the plaza in front of the church I find a small underground museum I have not noticed before. It is dedicated to the remains of the original Gallic-Roman town (called Lutece) from which Paris eventually emerges. The woman who takes my entrance fee decides that I qualify for the senior rate, saving me a Euro. I wander around the little museum looking at the foundations of the old city, thinking how appropriate it is to connect with this part of Paris considering how I will be spending a big chunk of my summer.
Back on the streets I continue my aimless wandering. I encounter a small church (Saint Severin) that I have seen in the past but never been in. The door is open so I go in, again to get out of the rain and rest a little. Upon entering I notice there is a large group of people at the front and the organ is sending out some sort of dirge. I sit in the back looking at the light and the stained glass. Unlike Notre Dame, there is lots of light in here and the stained glass tells Bible stories. Shortly, the music stops and everyone in front stands up. Slowly a priest and his conspirators come down the isle – followed by a coffin. I have become a tourist to a funeral.
As the mourners file out I realize I am trapped and will now have to wait until the ritual plays itself out. Finally I can gracefully leave and continue my wanderings. A quick bite to eat and back to the hotel to see if my room is ready.
Oh joy – it is! I discover I am on the 6th floor of a hotel whose lift stops at the 5th floor. However, my room is wonderful. The small hotel is owned and operated by a family and has recently undergone extensive renovations. The original wooden beams have been uncovered, sanded smooth and are highly polished. The bathrooms are completely modern. The room I am staying in is the largest in the hotel, which I specifically chose due to the length of my stay. I do a face plant on the bed and nap for several hours.
In the early evening I wander over to my favorite café to have a drink and engage in one of my favorite Parisian activities – people watching. I pay for my ridiculously overpriced beer and watch the tourists and locals dodge the raindrops while checking March Madness scores. Local underdog St. Mary’s has produced a huge upset.
Dinner and to bed after 33 hours of travel.
About the photos: The lighting inside Notre Dame.