Paris is worth a pass

Having caught up with our travels at last it is nearly time for us to return home. This will be my last post until we get back to New Zealand, unless I can find some wifi at Seoul.

The best way to see Paris is by metro, a five day unlimited pass allows you to go almost anywhere and make as many mistakes as you like. It’s great!

12th October 2012

This is it! The final day of the car.  We head to Paris via a stop in Orleans, since we have plenty of time.   Orleans is a very beautiful city. We luckily find the last free park along the river where we examine the locks and the boats tied up alongside.   The old city has a very grand cathedral, similar to Notre Dame in Paris, and many grand shops.  Naturally there is a statue of Jean d’Arc, and also a rather splendid tram system.  But we must press on, having an appointment at 4pm, wondering if the petrol will last us back. (it did) All is going splendidly until the last kilometre.  Suddenly it all turns to custard!  The GPS says turn left, which I do, and we find ourselves underground in some infernal delivery zone.  It’s bewildered inhabitants stare at us with a mixture of wonder and despair.   Who are these visitors from the upper world?  OK, I made that bit up.  Meanwhile, we have lost the GPS signal, and after finding an exit, nearly repeat the whole cycle.  Now we seem to be heading towards Rouen, with no exit in sight.  Tom-Tom says turn left but there is no left turn!  Shall we ever be quit of the car?   At last we make one last turn and the gates of Peugeot are before us.

From here it is but a short hop to the RER at la Defense and we are inside the walls (metaphoric) of Paris.  There is one final frustration, as there appears to be something wrong with no. 75 bus, some people have been waiting for more than half an hour, and there are dark rumours that the line has been axed.  A nice Indian man, who speaks English, explains how to catch a 96, then change to 46, which will take us where we need to go.  An hour late we arrive at the apartment which will be our haven for the remainder of our stay.  Nothing remains but to eat and fall into bed.

13th October 2012

First day back in Paris and we are having a good long lie in, knowing that we don’t have to drive anywhere, and knowing where we will sleep for the next seven nights.  We would like to start off with some walking in parks and gardens, past the Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame, we stop for a while to watch some people who are making a film.  As usual, there are a lot of people standing around eating snacks and not apparently doing much else.  There are cameras mounted on a quad bike, which rushes up and down the street a couple of times and then backs and fills a bit.  A number of cars appear and line up, and there are a lot of people with film stuff, (canvas chairs) who suddenly rush off towards a bridge where a gantry is doing something or other.  What fun.  Apparently the film is called Red 2, and has Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, who are definitely NOT on set.  I haven’t even heard of Red 1, have you?

Well the rain is getting worse, as we grab a bite near St Germaine des Pres, so we decide to sample haute couture at Galleries Lafayette, the ultimate temple of shopping, with five stories of ornate gallery’s around a light well, and a great stained glass cupola on top.  We are gaping at the outrageous clothes and shoes, and even more at the prices!  Sacre bleu.  Well at least we are dry, more or less.

14th October 2012

Still raining! We are going to go to Musee D’Orsay, and perhaps something else indoors.  Orsay is the premiere museum of nineteenth century art, as well as the well known Impressionists, there are collections of Neo-impressionists, Nabis, followers of Gaugin, and also includes the much neglected 19th century realist and academic painters.  Actually the Orsay takes most of the day and we are glad to head home when we finish.

15th October 2012

Today is sunny (hooray) and we went twice to the market, we could have sworn we visited on a Monday, when we first arrived, but it wasn’t there.  It was actually a Tuesday.  In between we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetary, which is fascinating and very peaceful with its jumble of graves and Roman style tombs. It is pretty hard to find anyone in particular, even with a map.  We did find Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

Next we went to Montmatre, and climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur.  Imposing and sparkling white wedding cake from the outside it is fairly banal inside, but the plaza in front provides great views over Paris.  Having eaten half a baguette, we feel the need for something more and decide to return to the Marais, for the “best falafel in the world”, but actually we had the identical item from across the road, which isn’t in the Lonely planet guide, and didn’t have ridiculous queues.  So it may have been the second best falafel in the world, but it was delicious.  From there we strolled to Place des Vosges, a beautifully proportioned square with park and fountains in the centre.

Today is a parks and gardens day, since it is fine and sunny, and it may not be so again before we leave.  Next stop, the Jardins de Luxembourg, with a side trip to admire the magnificent Pantheon, built as a church by Louis XV, it is now a more secular shrine to France’s good and great.  The gardens are beautiful with the sun slanting through autumn colours, and a formal lake and flower beds complete the picture.  There are many movable chairs rather than benches for people  to sit on and they make there own informal groups.  It is probably mayhem in July and August, but today is is very relaxed.

16th October 2012

Some of the best things in travel, are those you find by accident.  The Pinacotheque de Paris is one, or rather two, of these.  It is an Art Museum, divided between two buildings, and is currently showing two related exhibitions, one of the Japanese print maker,  Utagawa Hiroshige, the other of Vincent van Gogh, who was hugely influenced by his discovery of Japanese prints, and Hiroshige in particular.  This is the first time there has been a major exhibition of Hiroshige in Paris and there are over 150 of his woodcut prints on show.  We saw some of these in the Hiroshige museum in Tokyo two years ago, but these are almost overwhelming in their magnificence.

In the other building there are more van Gogh’s, than I have ever seen together, more than 20 with explanations beside of the influence of Hiroshige.   In some the identity of composition is obvious, but in others it is I think a bit of a stretch, and given that other influences, particularly Corot, are well known, the thesis is taken a step too far.  Of course they are all imbued with the unique frenetic, disturbed life that only van Gogh achieves.

Well we were going to do something else today, but it is past 4:30 and we are exhausted having stayed up late last night.   We are watching quite a bit of television, to help improve our French, but are pleasantly surprised at the quality of programmes on at least one channel.   Would NZ tv show an historical movie and then immediately afterwards, have an interview with a real historian about the merits of the show and the general historical background? I don’t think so!

17th October 2012

It’s getting rather dark in the mornings, theses days, and despite our best intentions, we are getting up quite late.  Our tickets for Musee d’Orsay also include a visit to L’Orangerie, which expire today, so our destination is set.  I recall that there were only Monet’s Nypheas on view, but now L’Orangerie has been completely renovated and there is a new gallery downstairs dedicated to the Paul Guillaume collection.  Paul Guillaume was a prominent dealer and collector in the period before and between the wars.  There are representative pieces of Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse.   Also Modigliani, Rousseau, Laurincin and particularly Derain from after his Fauvist period.  The major figure of this collection though is Chaim Soutine, whose energetic a powerful imagery, falls between fauvism and expressionism.  I have somewhat discounted Soutine previously, never having seen his work in reality, but I am completely overturned by the real experience.  He is totally direct, with amazing psychological insight in portraits and imparts such energy to landscape, still life as to excite huge admiration.

Undoubtably, the real focus of L’Orangerie are the two huge oval salons, housing Monet’s Nympheas, eight huge inter-connected paintings of waterlillies and the reflections of willows in the ponds.  It is difficult to convey the impact of these paintings.  They must be viewed at leisure to appreciate their full impact.   From a distance, they seem to be faithful reproductions of relatively small sections of the water-lilley ponds, but close up they dissolve into a multitude of completely abstract paintings.   Without borders or perspective they pull you into a timeless space, which becomes all embracing.  They formed, perhaps the most lasting image of Paris, when first I saw them and they have lost none of their power.

The afternoon is relatively young when we emerge, so after a wifi and coffee stop at McDonalds, there is time for the Gustave Moreau museum.  Moreau is not everyone’s taste, and, I suppose is regarded more as curiosity today, even though he is connected as colleague or teacher of many of the most famous late 19th century painters.  Nonetheless, his intricate, highly symbolic, perhaps overcrowded paintings have an attraction for me.   The museum preserves a large part of Moreau’s house, with two floors crowded with his paintings, many unfinished.  Amongst the most notable are Jupiter and Semele, the triumph of Alexander the Great, Salome, two of Leda and for me, the piece de resistance, the Unicorns.  This painting, in reproduction naturally, seen when I was about 13, was I think, the source of my first interest in art.  I have been wanting to see it ever since.  It is quite small in comparison to many of Moreau’s works but it’s mystery and vibrancy is imeasurably greater than any reproduction.  I’m very happy to have seen it.

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