Tuesday, March 23
Today we have a change of venue, moving from the Louvre to the D’ Orsay, as the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
While I am walking to the D’ Orsay, I am thinking about my ability (or lack thereof) to speak French. I am amused at my ability to recall a dozen or so polite French phrases which go so far to placate the French as an attempt to treat their language with respect that they are willing to speak English to you. Those phrases slowly emerge from the mind, like a long unused engine being turned over for the first time in ages – slowly, with much resistance, but eventually agreeing to perform the task that is its mission.
Arriving at the D’ Orsay I find long lines even for members, of which I am now one. As our party gathers we send out a scout to see what is the problem. He returns with bad news.
Last Sunday, the French have held regional elections, at which the government has suffered a significant defeat. While not affecting their majority in Parliament, it shows that the government is weak and labor has decided to take advantage of the situation by calling a strike. (I can say that one has not truly experienced France until some organization has gone on strike. Today is our day.)
The national, regional and local rail systems are in chaos, most schools are closed and other government workers show up for work only if they feel like it. At the d’ Orsay only about half the number of employees scheduled to work have actually shown up. Those that have are now engaged in a meeting to decide if they should stay or go home. The meeting is being held in the lobby of the museum, in full view of the now hundreds of people waiting to get in.
Forty-Five minutes past the scheduled opening time a decision is reached to open the museum. However the workers are not happy. In order for Dr. Hunt to lecture in the museum he needs a permit. Said permit was applied for months ago without a decision. A half hour of negotiations with the surly staff produces no permit. Poor Dr. Hunt is beside himself. We decide to soldier on. Dr. Hunt roams the halls directing us to significant pieces to make sure we don’t miss the items he was going to discuss.
In addition to not allowing us to have a discussion group, the museum has decided not to allow ANY photography. This is a significant change, as I know that I have taken pictures in here in the past. Not only that, but the staff is so reduced and so angry that enforcement of the rule becomes capricious. Any number of people walk up to an object and take a picture (including the usual idiots who still have not figured out how to turn off the flash on their point and shoot cameras) before the staff will snap at one poor individual.
After an hour or so of this, our other Michael, a debonair and sophisticated psychologist, shows up with the coveted permit! A miracle! Michael, how did you do this!?!?
After observing the distress of Dr. Hunt, Michael went in search of a solution. He went to the woman in charge of issuing the permits and explained our situation.
“I’m sorry,” she said “it is not possible.”
“To whom do I need to speak to?”
“The Director of the Museum. He is in a different building.”
Michael goes to the appropriate building but cannot get anyone to answer the door. Just then a man exits the building. Michael stops him and explains our situation. The man says he is an assistant to the Director and immediately takes him in to see the Director!
Michael again explains our situation (with just a little stretching of the truth) and the Director agrees to help. He takes Michael back to the Museum and to the afore mentioned administrator in charge of the permits.
The Director tells the administrator to issue Michael the appropriate permit. The administrator says, “No”!! Much conversation in French ensues with a final result that he administrator grudgingly issues the coveted permit.
Michael gives the permit the Dr. Hunt, whose relief is written on his face. We have lunch and then begin our tour again.
Normally, this would be THE highlight of the tour for me. The D’ Orsay is the home to most important paintings of the Impressionist movement. Unfortunately, the museum is undergoing a significant renovation and many of its most famous paintings are traveling. (Oddly enough, they are traveling to the deYoung Museum in San Francisco, which means that shortly after we get back they will be in our backyard!)
We start with Gustave Courbet still shocking, “The Origin of the World”. It shouldn’t be shocking today, not in our pornography-saturated culture, but it is. Perhaps it is the context. Not exactly what you would expect to see in a museum.
There are still a number of Van Goghs here. His use of color was his genius. However the almost militantly identical size of his brush strokes have always bothered me.
Just when you think things could not get any stranger, I hear the staff starting to yell at the visitors to clear the main gallery. Have they final decided to engage in a strike? No. Some idiot has left a bag in the gallery and walked away. Slowly the staff begins to herd us to the exits telling us the museum is closing due to a security problem. By the time we begin to see the exit the problem is cleared up and we go back to our tour.
I find something new I like, a painting by Edouard Vuillard, “Sous-bois a la dame au chien”. I get a better idea of the work of the “pointillists”, in particular Paul Signac.
I find a Monet that I am not familiar with, “Le Pont d’Argenteuil”. Its powerful reflection of light in the water fuels a lot of my photography.
At the end of the day, I take a picture of the great Art Deco clock high above the main floor. Since the museum in closing in 15 minutes, let them throw me out if they don’t like it!