Paris – Art and Wine

October 2018

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*cell phone photo. Forgive the quality please

On the cards today is sunset at Montmarte – with the grand dome of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur behind us and the metropolis of Paris sprawled below us. When we reach our stop, we see a bunch of young people queuing up for the tiny elevator at the end of the platform. Annoyed at their laziness and not wanting to wait we take the stairs. I carry the LO, while our dear friend RP and the husband carry the stroller and diaper bag between them. Ten minutes later we know why the young and healthy were waiting for the elevator and who the fools were. These stairs wind on and on. As we get out, the men ask me what the plan is. I want to take the LO to a park and not just any park, I want to take her to the park with the Le mur des je t’aime* – the wall with declarations of love in different languages.  RP suggests we start with the park in front of us instead and voilà, the wall is right in front of us.

I would love to wander around so more before heading further up. Art history buffs know that Picasso, Vlamenck, Derain, Soutine, Modigliani, Van Gogh and countless others lived and worked in these narrow streets. Picasso painted one of his most noted works Les Demoiselles d’Avignon here. It was in Montmartre that Picasso and Georges Braque co-founded Cubism, one of the most famous and influential art movements of the 20th century. Renoir’s old home at 13 rue Cortot. It’s now the museum of Montmartre. We don’t do this. No one wants to be walking back up the hill after that subway stair climb.

Perched atop a hill, Montmartre was initially a rural village dotted with vineyards and windmills. The area’s picturesque appearance and its views of the metropolis below made it very popular with artists. I assumed that these creative people flocked to Montmartre to be inspired by these spectacular views, or that they were attracted by the cheap rents before they got rich and famous. Then I found out about the tax-free wine.

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*cell phone photo. Forgive the quality please

Vineyards have flourished on Montmartre ever since the Romans built a temple dedicated to Bacchaus, their god of wine, on the hill. At the end of the nineteenth century, Montmartre was covered with vineyards. Even the local nuns made wine. At this point, Montmartre was still officially outside the city limits so the wine wasn’t subject to Parisian taxes. It’s easy to see why and how this area became a popular place to drink. Today, the vineyard of Clos Montmartre is a tiny relic of those times. Every year the vineyard hosts the Fête des Vendanges. We are just in time for it. This Grape Harvesting festival is known to attract large crowds and I really am not sure if it would be the right place to take the LO. Had the husband known, we probably would not have gone, but he doesn’t know; we did go and she has a blast. We stayed around the steps of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. There were lots and lots of happy people. People playing music.  Stalls selling wine. A lot of people had brought their own bottles and cheese. Despite the free flow of wine, we did not have to deal with drunk revelers.  We took the funicular to the top of the hill and then back down. I have never taken a funicular before.  We paid our respects at the altar of the gorgeous basilica. The husband and RP climb three hundred steps to get to the great white dome, hang out with the gargoyles and take in the view. I made the LO my excuse and stayed down. RP says the climb down was harder and it gave him vertigo. Somehow, I am responsible because I suggested it. We make our way back to the funicular and down the hill. RP, the LO and I make our way out of the crowds, but the husband and “poussette”** are nowhere to be seen. I look at RP, he shrugs and says,” He was right behind me!” Then we see the husband walk straight past us in a hurry to, I think, catch up with us. Dinner is Thai food. Another point for being vegan. After dinner we take a “ride-hailing” “app-based” taxi back to the Latin Quartier. The taxi takes us through Pigalle and past the Moulin Rouge. When we get back to our hotel, the men go hang out at Place de Contrescarpe while the LO and I stay in our room and get ready to wake up beautiful.

 

* Le mur des je t’aime  – I Love You Wall

** poussette – baby stroller

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Paris – The Tourist Circuit I

France doesn’t just have a culture; the word itself is of French origin. Culture = cultivation of the mind. Paris has been home and a source of inspiration to many artists. Picasso and Renoir; Van Gogh; Monet, Manet to name a few. While I am familiar with Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh, I made acquaintance with Renoir and Manet at the Musée d’Orsay.

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Le Louvre. One of the things about going during off season is no lines and with the poussette * we were ushered ahead of even the four people in front of us. Inside the Louvre, much to my surprise, I find that I have learnt to appreciate art. I am no longer staring at paintings listlessly, secretly wondering how much longer I need to keep up the charade. I am actually enjoying them. Yes, the Mona Lisa is small, but I can see why people think she was beautiful. Napoleon’s coronation and Les Noces de Cana are rich in detail as is the Madonna of the Rocks is in meaning.  I am inspired enough to decide to visit another museum the same evening, dragging the husband and LO along. Between the museums we squeeze in a walk down Champs-Elysées, a drink, magnificent views of the Tour Eiffel from the Esplanade du Trocadéro and a carousal ride.

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The LO is done for the day, but she holds up like a champ. The husband is done too, but Van Gogh buys me some time. The Musée d’Orsay, housed in a very unique location, is open after hours only once a week. *rubs hands with glee* Moody interiors and railway clocks – the building is an unused train station repurposed as a museum. I half expected the man at the reception to say, “Impressionist masters on level 5, special Picasso exhibit downstairs and the train to Académie de Magie Beauxbâtons (Beauxbatons Academy of Magic) on platform number 9 3/4. If you think the Highline is neat – take that.

What I found annoying about these museums was how “reduced mobility” unfriendly they are. We struggled to find elevators yet, I did see people in wheelchairs everywhere in the museums. Maybe they get a separate map showing all the hidden wheelchair friendly passages. Also note, the air conditioning is not particularly strong in the museums, which means they could get terribly hot on a crowded summer day. This is true not just of the museums but also of restaurants and hotels. It must be a cultural thing. At the Louvre, the air vent grates are on the floor. You can stand over them and have your own personal Marilyn Monroe moment. Another must be cultural thing is that the diaper changing stations at the museums are all next to the Men’s Rooms. Looking at the signs I thought they were *in* the Men’s Room, like they usually are in the Women’s Room, but there next to it. The sign is always with the Men’s Room sign and not with the Women’s Room. Go for it daddies!

* poussette – baby stroller

Paris – Off the Tourist Circuit

October 2018

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On an ordinary day, you might see a long line of people outside this seemingly ordinary building across the street from the Pantheon and a few steps away from the church Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. This building, with names of scholars and philosophers carved into its austere façade, is the historic Bibliothèque* Sainte-Geneviève. The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève has been at the heart of French education from its beginnings as part of the vast Abbaye de Sainte-Geneviève in the early sixth century, to its current role the main research and reference library for students of l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. The library is public, but to avoid tourists wandering around distracting studies, casual visitors are only allowed to visit between nine and ten in the morning, after which the library is open to students.

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Following the process, I emailed the library in advance and was told I could bring the LO but would have to wear her as the library is not stroller friendly. On the day, a large group of French speakers show up and the tour is conducted in French. The librarian was sweet enough to pause and repeat the main points in English for me.

St Geneviève, one of the largest and oldest abbeys in Paris, had amassed a large library by the 12th century.  The Royal Library Sainte-Genevieve was built sometime in the future to house  this collection. The French the architect Henri Labrouste was commissioned to design and oversee the construction of the modern version of this building. Labrouste’s  Bibliothèque  Nationale is better known and better loved, but Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève came first.

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The building is famous for its use of figured cast iron, reaching up to form two soaring barrel vaults running the length the reading room. It was among the first to have iron used in such a prominent, visible way. The library was conceptualized as “a temple of knowledge and space for contemplation”. The building is a marriage of light and dark. It represents the “outside” and the “inside”; the “arts” and the “sciences”. Its genius lies in the way it switches common notions which should darkness and which light.  The movement of people from light (outside) to darkness (inside/the lobby) to light (the reading room) can be interpreted in so many metaphysical ways. The reading room door has a secret lock. If that doesn’t catch your imagination, the thousands of books that line the walls will. Labrouste insisted that the interiors of the reading room be simple and unadorned. Books should be a library’s greatest decoration. Impressed.

*Bibliothèque- Library

Paris – A Literary Feast

October 2018

Paris is dotted with literary landmarks. When I think of Paris, I think of Voltaire and Victor Hugo; of Ernest Hemingway. I think of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A tale of Two Cites, The Scarlet Pimpernel…and mom. When I get to The Scarlet Pimpernel, the next thing that comes to my mind is my mother. The dashing hero, hiding behind a mild, meek, ineffectual persona has inspired generations of superheroes and vigilantes – Superman, Spiderman, Batman…When I asked which book comes to you mind when you think of Paris, she answered, A tale of Two Cities and …. The Scarlet Pimpernel. It is just the kind of story she loves. Romantic, adventurous, served up with a generous helping of culture and history.

img_4228In so many ways Paris is like that too. Romantic, adventurous, filled with culture and history. If you prefer the razzle-dazzle of the modern world, Paris has plenty of that too. Our friend, RP, confessed it was his 10th visit to Paris but he usually doesn’t stay in the area we picked. I confess I picked this locality because of its proximity to two big parks. When you travel with kids, you have to think of things like that (insert eye roll). Turns out, we were just down the road from where Hemingway and his wife lived. In 1922 the Hemingway moved to 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Our hotel was at 75 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Next door..almost. They later moved to 39 rue Descartes. That’s the next street. The French poet Paul Verlaine died in that same building. Valery Larbaud lived at 71 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Next door – literally.  The plaque outside describes him as l’écrivain, poète, romancier, essayiste et traducteur* . Romancier is simply novelist in french, but it sounds like so much more dreamy.  Valery Larbaud was all that the plaque says and also travel writer extraordinaire. Larbaud loaned his apartment to  the Irish writer James Joyce and his family, to give Joyce the sanctuary he needed to finish his controversial book Ulysses, in which episodes of Homer‘s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles. We were in the company of greats and barely knew it.

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Larbaud was close friends with Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach. Sylvia Beach was the owner of Shakespeare & Co., a bookstore and lending library that Hemingway often visited. During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers.  When Hemingway was young and broke, Beach gave him a library card (for her lending library) and told him to pay at his convenience. Shakespeare & Co was originally located at 12 Rue de l’Odéon. The iconic English-language bookstore closed during the German occupation of Paris and never reopened but… there is another bookstore called Shakespeare & Co., paying homage to the original, located on the quay across from the Notre Dame. This one was started by  the American author George Whitman. It continues to serve as a purveyor of new and second-hand books, as an antiquarian bookseller, and as a free reading library open to the public. The little bookstore also provides aspiring writers and artists a place to stay. In return the tumbleweeds, as they are called, need to help out around the store, read a book a day and write a one-page autobiography for the archives. Yes.. you can also actual sleep in the store surround by books.

* l’écrivain, poète, romancier, essayiste et traducteur – writer, poet, novelist, essayist and translator