Friday, May 26, 2006

Window shopping

Click on images to see enlarged views.

If you don’t have a lot of money in Paris – say you spent all your money just to get there, and there’s not much left for shopping – no worries! Window shopping is a very pleasurable pastime. You don't have to spend a centime.

Sometimes I get filled up just looking in shop windows or walking through markets, regardless of my interest, or lack thereof, in the products. The colors, design sense, the aesthetics of Paris can fill you to the point of saturation, even over-saturation. It’s all just so beautiful! After a while I can’t take it all in.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Louis XIV, the Louvre and Bernini

Click on photos to see enlarged view.

Sculpture of King Louis XIV by Bernini, outside the Louvre

If you study the history of the Louvre (now the world’s largest museum at half a million square feet, but previously French monarchs' royal residence) you will get a pretty good summary of the history of France and Paris.

I, for one, am overwhelmed by all the kings named Louis and queens with “de Medici” at the end of their prenom. It will take time to study it all, but I want to start here with this beautiful sculpture outside the Louvre of Louis XIV by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Some random bits of information:

- The Louvre was first a moated castle with towers on a site called “the Louvre” (origin unknown, though there are theories) commissioned by King Philip Augustus (also known as Philip II, 1165-1223).

- Centuries later Louis XIV (1638-1715), the “Sun King” or “grand monarch,” ruled France 72 years! This is the longest reign of any French or other European monarch in history. It was under this Louis’ long reign that France’s presence was extended to the Americas, Africa and India.

- The sculptor and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) came to Paris from Italy for a few months to design a new east wing of the Louvre for Louis XIV, but the task ended up being completed by architect Claude Perrault. Bernini’s most famous work, perhaps, is in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.

I’m sorry that’s all I have time for at the moment. It’s not much, but now I know a little more about the Louvre, one Louis, a sculptor named Bernini and his connection with Paris and the Louvre.

New tidbit found today (5-24-06) at about the statue pictured here:
"the ostensible reason for [Bernini's] visit, was discarded and his great equestrian statue of the king [at top], eventually delivered at the end of Bernini's life, was dishonoured. Louis did not like it, got one of his hack sculptors to turn it into Marcus Curtius Hurling Himself into the Flames, and relegated it to the garden. There it slowly deteriorated until, in 1980, vandals damaged it so badly that it took eight years to restore. Three copies were made, one for the garden, one for the Louvre, and one for Jackson, Mississippi. The original is so weak it is stored away. Happily, Bernini knew nothing of these insults, dying in an odour of sanctity, having just sketched a projected Christ, which he did not live to sculpt. His chisel had not been idle for seventy five years."

Pavillion of the Louvre, at the end of the Denon wing

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What does a woman want?

I think he's got a manual!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Etudes: French blue

Nautical blue I

Nautical blue II

Wish I had some of those

Irises in the Tuileries seem to watch tourists

Where to put it?

Blue, with hot sauce

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Luxembourg Gardens: Women in and out of their element

Today I met Catherine from Toronto (after seeing but not meeting her yesterday at a restaurant on the Champs Elysees), both of us feeling a bit lonely traveling unaccompanied in Paris for a week, strange women in a strange place (so why does it feel so much like home?).

Posted by Picasa Luxembourg Gardens

When I met Catherine I was walking toward the Luxembourg Gardens, getting away from diesel fumes on the busy quais along the Seine. I needed quiet, fresh air, and sprawling gardens with birds, men playing bocci ball petanque and kids toddling around, where a palace was built for a non-French-French queen who herself was out of her element.

Posted by Picasa Luxembourg Palace

Marie de’ Medici, married to French King Henry IV, was from Florence and did not feel at home in France. After her husband was assassinated (1610), she wanted to leave her residence at the Louvre and asked architect Salomon de Brosse to design and build this Florentine-style palace (like her childhood home), now home to the French Senate.

Posted by Picasa Henry IV's boot and spur on statue of him at Pont Neuf

She was an Italian woman adjusting to Parisian life, but apparently she influenced French culture, from fashion to food. Some say she is the mother of French cuisine!

One of the few surviving remnants of her commissions is the Fontaine de Médicis, in the photo below.

Currently in the still water of the Medici fountain, dusted with seeds floating down from the surrounding plane trees, there is a woman definitely out of her element. (No, I did not photoshop her in. I searched the Web for information about this sculpture, without luck; ParisDailyPhoto informed me that this sculpture was created by Lotta Hannerz of Sweden.) What would you name her? Do you love her or hate her? (Apparently Marie de’ Medici had lots of reasons to be hated.)

Posted by Picasa Sculpture in Medici fountain at Luxembourg Gardens

I think I love her. She is a woman learning to breathe in an element not her own. I have no problem breathing in Paris (until I get too many diesel fumes), but Marie did, many women must, and whoever this woman is, it seems that all she does is breathe.

Posted by Picasa Update: Thanks to ParisDailyPhoto, the artist's name is Lotta Hannerz, from Sweden.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Paired up

You can click on all images for enlarged view.

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa Men cleaning under a bridge

Women in Square George Cain

Children in the Tuileries Gardens

Men on a bench near the Eiffel Tower

Man, Woman (and Dog) near Eiffel Tower

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Miel & Cheval: Honey & Horse

1. On rue St-Antoine, a block from where I'm staying, there is a natural honey store, Miel et Nature, right next to a butcher that sells horsemeat, Au Cheval du Marais. I wonder how the natural honey-buyers feel shopping next to this boucherie? I was a bit disturbed just walking by, even though I eat (other) meat.

Frenchmen began eating horsemeat, ”they say, during the Battle of Eylau in 1807, when the surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon's Grand Army, Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, advised the starving troops to eat the flesh of dead battlefield horses. The cavalry used breastplates as cooking pans and gunpowder as seasoning, and thus founded a tradition.” (from this article)

Ok, stay with me.

Doorway into the courtyard of the Picasso Museum

2. At the Picasso museum in Paris, also in this neighborhood, there is a visiting photographic exhibit of Picasso’s mistress and friend, Dora Maar, with her photographs of him and his work, including the photographic series she took while he painted Guernica. Guernica (below) is Picasso’s anti-war painting against the April 27th, 1937 atrocities perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. By May 1 of 1937, a million protestors against this horrific act flooded the streets of Paris, where Picasso was living and painting. He had been commissioned to paint a mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition in 1937. Previously avoiding politics (though disturbed by the turmoil in his home country, Spain), in response to the terrible massacre at Guernica he painted this painting for the Spanish Pavilion. Imagine!

“The central figure in Guernica is a horse run through with a javelin, wrenched in agony. Some interpreted the horse as Franco's Nationalism, with Picasso predicting its downfall. But other, opposite meanings make more sense in the overall context. The portrayal of the people as a helpless animal dying a senseless death, without the light of hope, is certainly a disturbing idea.” (from this article)

It was not until after Picasso's death (1973), and after the death of Franco (1975), who had instigated the massacre in Spain, that Picasso's painting Guernica was sent to Spain, because Picasso wanted it to belong to the Spanish people, but not while Spain was ruled by a dictator. It is now housed in the Reina Sofía, Spain's national museum of modern art.

Bear with me just a little bit more.

3. I also found out today about
ATD Fourth World, a non-governmental humanitarian organization based in France that believes everybody, especially society's poorest members, needs culture as well as bread (fundamentally the ability to read and write, but also the arts).

This article in Mondialogo says "That is the basic tenet of ATD (Aid in Total Distress), which was founded in 1957 in a camp for homeless families in the Paris suburb of Noisy-le-Grand by Father Joseph Wresinski. First the priest invited actors to perform Sophocles’ Antigone in the muddy, ramshackle settlement. Then he laid on an exhibition of original works by Picasso, Braque, Miro and Léger. 'Culture is a fundamental right,' said Father Wresinski, 'but the shame the poorest people have to endure cuts them off from that right.' He wanted culture 'to cease to be a privilege' and to help people outside mainstream society 'believe in their own culture and in their intelligence.'"

This is just me responding to a day in Paris when honey, dead horses and Picasso were seen in more than one place.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Children in the city

When you live in a city like Paris (insert NYC, Mexico City, London, Sydney, Bombay, Tokyo, etc.) you most likely don't have your own yard/garden. So you take the kids to the park. Or you hope for entertainment along the way.

The first two photos are in the Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, a 15th century square where I'm staying in the 4th arrondisement in the Marais district. The cow is part of the "cow parade" all over Paris right now.

The last two photos are in the Place des Vosges, my favorite Paris park. Victor Hugo lived in this square.

Place des Vosges

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mary Magdalene in Paris

May 19 the film “The DaVinci Code” will be released worldwide to church controversy. Many will boycott the film, because it goes against traditional church teaching about Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. (Since when do books and movies have to be based in fact? Well, but when you’re talking about the marriage status of Jesus, the figurehead of one of the world’s great religions . . .)

I had my own Paris adventure with Mary Magdalene in 2004.

That year I was reading the book The DaVinci Code at about the same time I was learning more about Mary Magdalene (MM) from a spiritual teacher I met. Before then I didn’t know, for instance, that MM and others of Jesus' disciples may have escaped persecution in the Holy Land to Provence.

Mary, the name of the spiritual teacher, told me I was a “Magdalene” in a previous life, a follower of MM who joined her in fleeing Israel to France. I don’t accept or deny this claim, nor do I feel any particular attachment to MM, other than to find her story interesting theologically and sociologically. (Was she really a prostitute? Or did church leaders over the centuries misrepresent her because her role in Jesus’ life was outside social norms and thus beyond acceptance and comprehension?)

But because of the claim that I was a Magdalene, and because MM was said to have settled in France after fleeing Israel for her life after her friend and lord Jesus was killed, I set out on an already planned visit to Paris in October with companions with the new intention of visiting the Church of the Magdalene (Église de la Madeleine) and paying attention to any statuary I saw of her elsewhere in the city. Perhaps she would speak to me?

Église de la Madeleine, or simply “La Madeleine” was originally built as a temple to the glory of Napolean’s army in the 1760s. But after the fall of Napolean, King Louis XVIII decided to use it as a church. In the apse there is a statue of Mary Magdalene that looks very much as though she is pregnant, interestingly enough. Unfortunately I don't have a photograph to post here so you can decide for yourself. But believe me, either she is bending back in a limbo position, or she has a large abdomen!

After touring La Madeleine, Ginnie, Donica and I went to the Louvre on Monday, believing we had hours to browse (always check updated “ouverture” – opening and closing times at museums; old travel books don’t always have the current hours). It is said that if you spent 10 seconds standing before every display in the Louvre, it would take two months to see everything. It covers half a million square feet. We had 45 minutes before the museum closed.

We decided to go ahead and do “Louvre Light” (Louvre EXTRA Light) and feverishly dash around to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory and Venus de Milo. Just before sprinting off to view these treasures, Donica noticed an enlarged photo of a Mary Magdalene statue on the Louvre map. Of course I had told my travel buddies about the “MM watch” and so we knew we had to go check out the statue.

Gregor Erhart was a 16th c. German sculptor who carved this gorgeous statue out of limewood c. 1500. From a distance, walking up the gallery toward her at the end of a long hallway, La Belle Allemande (as she is also called) is stunning in her life size elegance and quietude. But the true awe comes when you stand below her and gaze into her eyes, or rather, receive HER gaze. The only way to describe it (for when you feel it, it is indescribable) is to say that she comes alive, looks into your soul and communicates love and acceptance. How Mr. Erhart accomplished this I can’t comprehend. But I’m grateful to the museum designers and engineers who placed the statue at a perfect height to allow the effect.

Then, the museum was closing, and we had to leave, pulling ourselves reluctantly from MM’s captivating gaze.

Later in the week, we went back to the museum to see other rooms and displays, spending the two hours we’d anticipated on Monday. In spite of the intimate experience we’d had with her earlier in the week, we all agreed that we didn’t need to see MM again this visit. So we found the nearest elevator and began our exit from the Louvre. Reaching the lower ground floor (from where you enter and exit – under the glass pyramid), coming out of the elevator, we looked both ways to get our bearings, and there we were within a few feet of the Erhart MM statue! There she stood, bronze hair flowing, rose cheeks, mouth half smiling, eyes gazing down at whomever was standing beneath her. Stunned, we agreed that SHE wanted to say good-bye to US, and so, she did.

Photos courtesy Ginnie Hart and Donica Detamore

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rodin Museum

Musée Auguste Rodin is one of the many small museums in Paris that make museum-going a pleasure.

I am one who rather dreads stepping foot into the Louvre. I hate how that makes me sound like an uncivilized wretch, because after all, everyone who goes to Paris must experience the Louvre at least once (even if it’s just “Louvre Light”: racing around to the biggies such as Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa, among others). But staring at paintings on the walls of a gallery the length of two football fields is not my idea of fun. The Louvre needs to be broken down into bite-sizes. And that’s for another post.

There are small museums scattered around tiny streets and places in Paris, many housed in what were once residences. The Rodin Museum is one of these. The mansion, Hôtel Biron, was built in the late 1720s, and there is a nice history of its inhabitants in the embedded link in the post title.

M. Rodin wanted a museum for his art and gave the French government the entire collection of his own work and others he had acquired, but he died before seeing his dream become reality: his art housed in the Hôtel Biron, which opened as the Rodin Musuem in 1919 (Rodin died in 1917). Apparently the bureaucratic art world in Paris during his lifetime did not easily accept his art. Imagine, he was never accepted as a student into the most prestigious Paris art institute, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, though he applied three times.

On two floors, you can browse and stroll into room after room, where sculptures, sketches, and bronzes are placed. Loving residential architecture as I do, being in this building alone, regardless of the art on display, is a pleasure.

The Kiss

The grounds are also beautiful, and you can see many sculptures outside, including The Thinker and the Gates of Hell. Here is a bronze of The Thinker inside.

Photos courtesy Donica Detamore and Ginnie Hart
(Ginnie: I'm sorry I was not able to upload your favorite sculpture, Danaid, but I lost patience. I'll see if I can get it done later.)