Wednesday, October 11, 2006

This Complete Idiot's Guide to Paris

What do you do when faced with the Louvre’s 35,000 works of art and only five hours to spare?
You get caffeinated.
You enter Ming Pie’s glass pyramids while looking at the surroundings eight centuries in the making, up at the statues of Rousseau and Rabelais for inspiration, and then gird your loins.
Pick a section.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came to mind. Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo. The Italian Masters it would be, followed by Delacroix and David. First floor in the Denon wing. Inadvertently saw the Mona Lisa. Leonardo has better portraits, but there’s no denying the enigmatic quality and superlative technique. What really moved me were the Titian portraits – Man With A Glove c. 1520, "remarkably psychological" (according to my "A Guide to the Lourve" publication) and an early precursor to Romanticism (according to my humble opinion). Onto large format French painting, and a needed break from crucifixion and suckling infants. Military conquest. Napolean everywhere. Paintings "ripped from the headlines". Bolted down the stairs before closing for a quick gaze at Italian sculpture and Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave,1513ish. Pain and ecstasy, sensuality and longing. Dying made me horny. Lucky Jim.

Jim. My travel companion and lover. Booked us in an apartment near the Avenue des Gobelins bordering the Latin Quarter, one off limit apartment once the studio of the famous French painter Watteau (yeah, I’d never heard of him either). If you have the money, book an apartment. If you don’t have the money, book an apartment on credit. Hotel rooms are the size of walnuts. You’ll appreciate having your own kitchen in the morning.

Now I’m just a simple white girl, a fifth generation Canadian from a dysfunctional family. I don’t forget that. I wish I could. So when visiting Chateau Versailles and plowing through the palace’s many anterooms, the Hall of Mirrors and the Queen’s apartment, well, I got my back up. The opulence revolted. No wonder the gens sliced off the royal heads. Divine Right of Kings my ass.
The palace gardens. Topiary that would take your head off, in a good way. Floral symmetry that staggers.

Paris seemed vaguely familiar to me, because I was born and raised in Montreal. My French is abysmal, mais, I did get by. For a Torontonian, Jim spoke French exceptionally well. Only once did he screw up, when he purchased what he thought was ice cream at the Jardin des Plantes. "Glace ou non glace", asked the attendant. "Non glace", replied Jim. (I was gawking at a flower at the time and didn’t hear the exchange). Jim came over holding a frothy looking cone. "What’s that?" I asked. "Whipping cream from an aerosol can." He ate it anyway.

How did the Nazis take Paris? How did my friend’s friend’s cousin at ten years old cope with seeing his parents bussed away from the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais quarter, never to return? When you’re deep below the Montparnasse streets in the famed Catacombs, the hideout for the French Resistance and only a mile or so away from the Palais de Luxembourg, (Luftwaffe HQ in the day), and you’re surrounded by centuries of bones and skulls, the questions haunt.

France rejected the EU charter. French society is divided. Paris is a living museum. People wearing tuxedos stood in a movie queue at midnight on the Champs Elysees. Everyday life for some.
As is jumping in front of a Metro train for others.

1 comment:

Zartimus said...

Did any albinos try to kill you in the Louvre?

It happens...