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Monthly Archives: August 2009
On Tuesday, some of us had had enough of the museum thing and wanted to change things up a bit, so we decided to pay a visit to Les Catacombes de Paris. This is an underground ossuary housing the remains of over 6 million former Parisians, built into an erstwhile quarry during the late 18th century. The catacombs were created to solve the problems of disease and other unpleasantness associated with the vast numbers of improperly buried corpses resulting from war, famine, and epidemics occurring over the past several centuries. The remains were systematically removed from existing cemeteries and relocated in the catacombs. An interesting history, with sometimes unintended humor in translation, is available here.
The bones are stacked neatly in piles, room after room. I couldn’t help thinking about the logistics of how it was done, and what was going through the minds of the people doing the stacking. It’s amazing to me that you can just go right up and touch them if you are so inclined (I wasn’t). They do check your bag as you come out though, to make sure you don’t take any souvenirs.
As you move throughout the tunnel, you see frequent monuments urging you to reflect upon your own life, because hey, you’ll be here yourself before too long.
And of course, human nature being what it is, the living feel compelled to leave their own mark:
After the Catacombs and lunch, the only remaining excursion appropriate to the day is a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery. As any self-respecting cemetery afficionado knows, Père Lachaise is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, and it’s the final resting place of such notables as Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison, to name a few. The Wikipedia entry has a good list of the most famous permanent residents.
It is certainly a different approach to cemeteries than I am used to here in the States.
Monday was museum day. If art museums are your thing, there’s no better place than Paris. By this time, all of the group from school (Metro) had arrived, and we went together to several of the museums. We didn’t go to the Louvre as a group, since it’s just too overwhelming to do in a short amount of time, but some went on their own. I chose not to, because I simply am not into the crowd thing. Maybe some day I’ll get to go again at a time of year when there aren’t so many tourists in town.
Our first stop was the Musée de l’Orangerie, an institution built for the express purpose of housing eight of Monet’s 2×6-meter paintings of waterlilies, known as Nymphéas. We had special arrangements to go at a time when only a couple of small groups were allowed in and were able to avoid the masses of people who come in during the regular hours.
The Monet paintings are installed on curved walls in two oval-shaped rooms lit only by softly diffused natural light coming from overhead skylights covered by fabric filters. Standing in front of these enormous paintings at close range, I began to lose sight of them as paintings. The texture of the brush strokes becomes quite abstracted and is lovely in its own right.
Can you imagine having a studio space large enough to paint something like this and be able to get far enough back from it to see the overall effect?
The Orangerie also has an impressive collection of paintings by Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir, Modigliani, Utrillo, Derain, Soutine, and others. But by far my favorite in the Museum that day was a temporary exhibition of work by contemporary artist Didier Paquignon called Tu rencontreras d’abord les sirènes. I had never heard of Paquignon before, and I couldn’t find much about him online, but more of his work can be seen here. (Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find my notes with the titles of these works, below.)
Two paintings by Didier Paquignon, photographed at Musée de l’Orangerie, July 2009
It seems there is no subject Paquignon can’t render with lively expression and sensitive soulfulness, whether it’s an octopus, an urban landscape, a portrait, or a strangely familiar yet ambiguous interior. His handling of color and light give the work an ethereal glow that apparently can’t be reproduced in print. I was excited to find the exhibition catalog in the museum shop, but then disappointed because the paintings appeared flat and lifeless in the book.
Harry Potter et le Prince de Sang-Mêlé is a big deal here.
A few of my very favorite things: concrete and rust and peeling stuff.
(I’d like to hold a caption-writing contest for this one.)
The last tour for the day was the Centre Pompidou, a vast, multi-storied institution with multiple exhibition halls, research facilities, performance halls, a restaurant, an amazing bookstore, and so on and so forth. My only regret was that we had just a couple of hours here. I probably could have spent 2 or 3 days, quite happily. In addition to an amazing permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, the Pompidou was hosting major retrospective exhibitions of work by both Kandinsky and Calder. I didn’t have time to get through both of them, so, since Kandinsky has always been one of my favorite artists, that was the one I chose. One of the interesting things about the exhibit was that, in addition to the paintings, they included a selection of pages from Kandinsky’s notebooks. I always love seeing a glimpse into another artist’s thought process, but when it’s Kandinsky, well, that’s beyond cool.
The Pompidou structure is also quite interesting. I didn’t get a good shot of it, but you can see one here. You can decide for yourself whether you think it’s awesome or hideous, but regardless, the views from the top are spectacular.
Staircase, St. Sulpice, Paris. ©2009 Deidre Adams.
After reading about this in Rick Steve’s Paris, one of the things I most wanted to do was go to hear the organ at St. Sulpice Church. Never mind the fact that the church is a big tourist attraction, especially after it was featured in the DaVinci Code, (look at that — you can get it for a penny now!) I just wanted to hear the organ. When I was growing up, my dad had a lot of records of Bach and other organ music, so I guess it’s a nostalgia thing for me.
Anyway, the Sunday Mass is followed by an organ recital. Update: Here’s a video I took of the interior of the church during the recital. I apologize for the amateur videography; I was testing the video capabilities of my new camera and have a lot to learn about doing video. The quality of the original is quite good; I had to downsize it to make it playable on the web.
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When the recital is over, you can go upstairs and see the keyboards and meet the titulaire du Grand-Orgue, currently Daniel Roth. You have to jockey for position with all the other adoring fans pressing in to get a better look:
For all his stature and accomplishments, Roth’s demeanor is gracious and humble in speaking to everyone who manages to squeeze into the narrow entryways on either side to speak to him. He greeted me warmly and asked me where I was from. It was cooler than meeting any rock star, in my own humble opinion.
Daniel Roth, titulaire du Grand-Orgue A. Cavaillé-Coll de Saint-Sulpice. ©2009 Deidre Adams.
From the organ loft, you have a great view of the activities below:
On the way back down, I found a lot of intriguing compositions in the spiral stairway.
After St. Sulpice, I went with Laura to see the Palace of Versailles. I must confess I’ve never been terribly interested in the exploits and excesses of kings and queens, so my knowledge of Versailles was pretty sketchy (read: “nonexistent”). A quick scan of the appropriate chapter in Rick Steve’s gave just as much background as I needed. To quote the book, “To some it’s the pinnacle of civilization; to others, the sign of civilization in decay” (468). Long story short, the palace was built by the Sun King, Louis XIV, and remained the seat of power and apex of conspicuous consumption through 2 more Louis successors, until the French Revolution.
A glance at the Wikipedia sidebar with statistics on the Palace gives you a good idea of the magnitude of riches involved:
|Statistical Information on the Palace of Versailles|
|Surface area of roofing||11 hectares|
|Floor space||51,210 m2|
|Number of windows||2,153|
|Number of rooms||700|
|Paintings in the museum’s collection||6,123|
|Drawings in museum’s collection||1,500|
|Engravings in museum’s collection||15,034|
|Sculptures in museum’s collection||2,102|
|Pieces of furniture and objets d’art||5,210|
|Source: Official site of the Chateau de Versailles|
Going through the palace was somewhat tortuous, due to the hordes of people crowding everything so that you couldn’t see much, and sucking all the air out of the place. The only way to get a shot of anything without crowds in it was to shoot over a rope crossing a doorway into a room with no visitors allowed into it.
You are dragged along by the crowds from one room to another; at some points it was virtually impossible to move. I quickly tired of the suffocation and went outside to get some air.
The Palace grounds consist of of acres of formal gardens and more structures, including the Trianon, the king’s “escape from his escape” (Rick’s Steve’s Paris, 482) and The Hamlet, Marie Antoinette’s “fairytale world of simple country pleasures” (483). It’s a good walk to get around to see most of it. No gym needed on this trip!