November 9 – 23, 2011- Part 1 – Paris

Seine River, Paris by Night
Paris by Night

(NB: most of the horizontal photos expand if clicked on)

I got a bit behind with the weekly updates so this is bi-weekly divided into two parts, starting with Paris. No, I’m not in Paris, but it’s been on my mind for a couple of weeks. I recently finished reading Parisians. Also the Occupy movement has me pondering various revolutions.

Parisians by Graham Robb

Parisians; Graham Robb; Kindle Edition, 2010

Why oh why did we only spend a couple of days and not a few months in Paris. Answer: time and money. I wish I’d read Parisians first though. Even if you’ve never been to Paris and don’t plan on going this is a fun read. Graham Robb writes chapters about different personalities and eras in Paris, starting in the late 1700s with a young Napoleon. Not all these stories feature famous personalities, but each chapter evokes something about Paris and its evolution. Some chapters have a distinct tone, especially the ones focussing on Juliette Greco and, later, the May ’68 riots. Sometimes you don’t find out who the person he’s writing about is until part way through the chapter which leads to little ‘aha!’ moments. At one time Paris was the largest city in the world, and for centuries the largest in Europe. There’s layers upon layers of history and many stories. I found myself using Google maps and street views to find the places he writes about. There are some photos in the book but I also found more on the ‘net, which helped me visualize the places and people. Although every chapter is not equally gripping I never lost interest. The downside of Parisians is that now I’d really like to fly back and look for the places Robb writes about. Rating: 8/10

Paris bridge sculptures
Faces in the Paris Night

A few posts ago I wrote about Paris 1919, another book I enjoyed. It’s not so much about Paris but about a time in history, the post WWI peace conferences, that had a huge impact on our modern world. Also, a few years back I read Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution which provoked me to reconsider the French Revolution, circa 1789 – 1799. The French have certainly have had their share. The barricades are thrown up, the cobblestones torn up, hurled and blood runs in the streets. Has it all been worth it? Well… they did get rid of their monarchy. And produced some revolutionary rhetoric and graffiti (e.g. L’émancipation de l’homme sera totale ou ne sera pas. – The liberation of humanity is all or nothing). Yet their politicians continue, as most politicians do, to make outrageous decisions and mistakes. And people, no matter where and how, will continue to display wildly divergent moral and ethical values. For every liberal mind, for every lover of beauty, there’s at least one racist who’ll happily turn over their Jewish neighbour to the Nazis or grumble about how Paris is no longer French because there are so many immigrants. And now those cobblestones torn up from the Paris streets are sold as souvenirs or bookends on eBay.

Roman Arch in Paris
Reminder of the Past

The Global Village is ripe for revolution. Sometimes it works. Tunisia. Maybe Egypt. Syria’s having a rough go. Libya might make it. Cities are Occupied. The forces of law and order are caught on video being needlessly brutal (UC, Davis). Lawyers discuss whether protesters should stay or should go. Sometimes the message is transmitted and people support and/or join in the cause. Sometimes the message is lost in the hubbub and people are left puzzled and/or frustrated.

I found this story, from a BBC blog, about the New Left quite illuminating. Although focussed on UK events the influence of Paris 1968 hovers. The videos are very educational and entertaining too! The message is clear though. The workers are not interested in elitest posturing while they’re struggling to make a living. They’ll go home and whine and wine to placate their angst but taking to the streets is not an option when they’ve mouths to feed and desirable goods to consume.

The almost instant communications these days take discussion of the issues out of the hands of the mass media and puts it into the hands of the people. Knowledge and intelligent use of that knowledge could go a long ways to transform our world. Especially the Third World which is attempting to catch up to the First World, sometimes at great expense to people’s health and welfare.

Peaceful protest serves a purpose. Angry mobs scare me; they serve only to fuel the anger. Flashmobs are cool. Dancing mobs groovy. Another concept that’s seems to emanate from Paris…

Dancing: anywhere, anytime, with anyone. I imagine hundreds, thousands of people dancing, smiling, interacting with no words…

And what would they be listening to? Well, there are some French artists that come to mind:

M83’s new album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is one of my current favourite albums. They really nail the sound. The sound that might just propel you out into the streets dancing…

M83 continues in the great tradition of French electronica. Here’s AIR playing La Femme D’Argent live, in Paris. It’s a long track so if you don’t want to watch the video you could make yourself a caffè latte.

A tidbit from Parisians is that Café Procope is the oldest, continually operating restaurant in Paris. For the first time in Paris coffee was served in a specialized restaurant, rather than in a bar.

There’s the long history of Great French Artists. I won’t even attempt to list them all but one of my faves is the Yeh Yeh Girl: Françoise Hardy. Musician, model and actor…

And lastly Serge Gainbourgh and Jane Birkin singing the infamous (banned by the BBC!) Je T’aime.. Moi Non Plus:

Serge Gainsbourgh, musician, actor and director, is an icon in France and still a big influence in popular music (e.g. AIR). Jane Birkin, an English singer and actor, was in a relationship with Gainsbourgh from 1968 – 1980. Their child, Charlotte, is an actress and musician. Just last week we watched the film 21 Grams in which Charlotte Gainsbourgh has a feature role as the girlfriend of Sean Penn’s character, Paul.

I could rattle on forever about French culture but I’ll restrict myself to a few final observations about our time in Paris. Although we were only there a few days I was a sponge, soaking up every little thing. We wandered out from our hotel room on our first night. Sue was a bit worried about the way I just headed off, with no real idea of where we were headed except that the Seine was somewhere in front of us.

Paris night street scene with posters
Walking Walking

Paris, like many European cities, is rich in graffiti.

Paris graffiti by night
Paris Graffiti
graffiti on Paris van
Moveable Feast

We did fine. We found Notre Dame. Saw the Seine at night with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

Sue in Paris at night
Happy in Paris

And if you want to see art in museums and galleries… well, this is one of the best cities in the world to visit. And for this reason alone one could spend weeks in Paris. Or simply move there as so many artists have done.

the Louvre Pyramid
Louvre Pyramid

I may have spent too much time in the Louvre. I missed the D’Orsay with all it’s Impressionist, Post-Impressionist paintings. Which may be a reason to return. However, the Louvre has much to offer. There’s the Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Paris
Crowds Gather

Personally of Da Vinci’s paintings I was more attracted to The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by Leonardo Da Vinci
Getting Close to the Work

The Louvre is a large museum. Some of the artworks are also large. Such as this painting by Jacques Louis David: The Coronation of Napoleon.

Emperor Napoleon Crowning Himself by Jacques Louis David
Getting Close to the Emperor Napoleon Crowning Himself

And some are quite petit.

The Lacemaker by Joannes Vermeer
The Lacemaker

Vermeer’s The Lacemaker was a highlight for me. While in Paris I read an interview with a Louvre employee who mentioned it was her favourite painting so I sought it out. Yes, if I worked in the Louvre, or even lived in Paris, I’d drift by The Lacemaker frequently.

I also visited the Centre Pompidou, an amazing building with a huge collection of modern art.

Centre Pompidou view of gallery
The Rhino's View
school children with Joseph Beuys piece at Centre Pompidou
An Art Education

What a great educational experience for children: being exposed to modern art at an early age. Especially art that many consider ‘difficult’, such as that shown here: Infiltration for Piano by Joseph Beuys.

Although I missed the D’Orsay I sought out and found the Musée Picasso. At the time of my visit there was a large installation by Daniel Buren.

Musée Picasso showing installation by Daniel Buren
Musée Picasso with Le Coupure

Even smaller children gaining an invaluable experience of art. I’ve seen a number of Picasso pieces in various museums and galleries but visiting the Musée Picasso was huge. The collection was created using artworks given to France by Picasso’s family to pay his tax debt. And what a collection it is.

But we were only in Paris for two days and how much can one pack in? Not a lot I’m afraid. We did trek off one evening to the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower telescope
City of Light

The trek itself was entertaining, but long. So we caught the Metro back to our hotel. Perhaps it’s because I’m a country boy but I love riding the trains and subways. More on that another day though.

Paris… I’ll be back. You’ll still be there I’m sure. You’ve been around for a long time.

model of the construction of Notre Dame, Paris
Building Notre Dame

And, hopefully, you’ll be there for years to come…. (even if the Nat Geo chooses you as a vision of the demise of humanity).

National Geographic cover of Paris
Apocalypse de Paris

In the meantime I’ll groove to the music, look and look at the art, drink French roast, remember the smell of fresh French baguettes, cheese, wine….

Au revoir Paris! (and I’ll try to improve my French language skills!)

leaving Paris by train
Au Revoir!

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