Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Daydreamer in Paris: Day 3

Museums and not quite Midnight in Paris

When I woke up early on Sunday morning, a gray haze had descended upon Paris, a light, misty rain falling softly. I could only think of two things: Gil's line in Woody Allens' film Midnight in Paris, “Isn't Paris beautiful in the rain?” and to myself, “What a perfect day for a museum!”

I checked out of the hotel and made my way to the second which was luckily on the same Metro line. I had booked this hotel online for its price and ratings. Even though everything had checked out on the internet, I couldn't help silently hoping that the place wasn't a dump.

The neighborhood that arose as I exited the Metro station was charming enough and just a block up, nestled in all of its classic, old Parisian glory was the Hotel Innova. It all looked nice from the outside, but as it was too early to check in and opening time for the museum was fast approaching, I dropped off my suitcase and set off on my way.

Before getting back on the Metro, I stopped by a small bakery across from the hotel, ordering an apple turnover and what I thought was a coffee. But when the girl behind the counter presented me with the turnover and a baguette, I realized I needed to speak more clearly. I corrected my mistake and with breakfast in hand (costing only €2,40!), I set off for the Musee d'Orsay.

Some may wonder why the Louvre wasn't my first choice for museums. The Musee d'Orsay is home to such artists as Van Gough, Monet, Lautrec, and Degas. All of which interested me considerably more than seeing the Mona Lisa. As most museums are free the first Sunday of the month, people were already lined up as I got there. Already 30 minutes before the museum even opened! Still, I took my place in line and waited, taking in the various people and languages around me. Most interestingly, a rather nerdy looking French boy trying out his rather impressive japanese with a tall, pretty, and fashionable Japanese girl. Also amusing were an old couple from New Zealand who screamed Tourist louder than the Korean family in front of me, as they loudly misunderstood everything security attempted to say to them in keeping the line in order.

The rain, which had held up during the time we were in line, began again as we were let inside. As I entered, I noticed with amusement how long the line had become.

Breezing past the ticket counters (such a wonderful thing, this Sunday rule!) I got myself a map and paid the 5€ for the audio guide. Where to go first? I began on the first floor, admiring the sculptures and making my way to the section on Toulouse-Lautrec and could also cover the works of Monet and the ballerinas of Degas. The paintings of the Moulin Rouge were fascinating, but in my wanderings on this floor, two paintings stood out to me:

Fernand Khnopff's L'Encens, for the enigmatic expression on the model's face, and Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer's La Sorciére for the strange and mystical feel to it.

Ascending to the second floor, I made my way slowly, finding all sorts of treasures:
Le rêve by Edouard Detaille depicting sleeping soldiers dreaming of the battle ahead.

La Muse d'André-Chenier by Denys Puech, the sculpure of a young woman cradling the head of her beloved in her long hair.

The interesting drawings and paintings of architect Garas, constructing stunning, fantastical temples, some plans even with lines of music accompanying them like the one dedicated to Beethoven. (Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures and I couldn't find a copy of that particular drawing online.)

Of course Van Gough's La nuit etoilée in its less tumultuous version.

And two interesting sculptures: La main aux algues et aux coquillages by Emila Gallé and a great polar bear sculpted by François Pompon who apparently had a special relationship with his subject, circling each other and the bear eventually posing for the artist, a light smile on the animal's lips.

(Please don't sue me, Musee d'Orsay!)

But the most stunning exhibit for me was the temporary Misia exhibit on the fifth floor. Misia was a society woman during that golden time in Paris. She new Cocteau, Ravel, Poulenc, Coco Chanel, just to name a few. Ravel had written a piece for her, in the exhibit, the score presented and on earphones, the piece played with Poulenc on the piano. Next to it, a note from Poulenc to Misia, and her notes back. The moment nearly brought tears to my eyes. Further, photos and letters of and about Stravinsky, Nijinski, and the Ballet Russes. Picasso's costumes for Poulenc's ballet Les Biches. The combination of all these artists who held such meaning for me, brought to life with these artifacts was truly something and I was extremely moved. I want to read up mor eon Misia and her experiences. All she saw and all she knew.

All of this had made me work up an appetite and I settled on lunch in the fifth floor cafe in one of the enormous clock towers.

To my great pride, I succeeded in ordering a great Croque Monsieur and a wonderful glass of rosé from Provence all in French.

After lunch, I walked out onto the terrace which overlooked the city of Paris settled under some slowly sun filled skies.

To my disappointment, the other floors of the museum appeared to be closed, but after hearing a bit about Monet and his lilies from the audioguide and on recommendation from a friend, I made my way to the other side of the Seine to the l'Orangerie Museum. As I crossed the bridge filled with the padlocks of lovers wanting to make their bond eternal, everything from the museum, to the sun, to the river, to probably the wine, made me full to bursting with a happiness so strong, I felt it eminating from every fibre of my being. As I passed an old couple, I heard the man turn to his wife and say “Well, I've never looked that happy.”

A short walk through the Tuleries Garden, and I placed myself into the rapidly moving line into the l'Orangerie. As it turned out, this museum was also free on the first Sunday of the month.

I first headed to Monet's lily rooms. Two large rooms, perfectly round, with enormous murals of lilies surrounding the viewer in the center. It really was as the audio guide had said. Monet wanted the viewer to feel surrounded by them. Monet's style had always impressed me. The way upclose, the canvas seemed full of unorderly, swirling blots of color, but as one moved away, the pond, the lilies, the trees, the shadows, all start to take shape. I took a moment to admire the parts where I particularly enjoyed the color schemes and then went downstairs to the additional galleries below.

It was an interesting collection. All from one man. How wonderful to fill one's home with beautiful (and original) works of art! A couple paintings stood out in particular and I bought postcards of both.

L'Etreinte by Picasso
Gabrielle et Jean by Renoir

I left the l'Orangerie and decided to have a look at the tree lined Champs-Elyseés. The stairs leading down in its direction lead out onto the vast, enormous roundabout of the Concorde.

The sheer intricacy of the ornaments on every lamp post, fountain, and the obelisk in the middle were simply stunning. I nearly burst out laughing for joy. Near one of the fountains, an asian girl started to run around the circle, arms outstretched like the wings of a bird. I shared her sentiment and would have followed suit if I didn't think she'd probably feel more embarrassed than I would.

Then, spotting the lines of trees, I went over to confirm my suspicions. There at the very end of the treelined road was the Arc d'Triomphe. Certain things, even when you're certain you're seeing them, still don't register as real.

Elation seeming to have given my exhausted legs their second wind, I decided that walking back to the hotel wouldn't be such a bad idea. I crossed the Pont de la Concorde and continued along the path to the vast Hôtel des Invalides.

The way my map showed it, I need simply to follow the grassy Avenue de Breteuill to the end, follow the street a bit further, and would end up at the hotel in no time. Well, I did want to see the neighborhood and not just a grassy park, so I followed what I thought was a parallel street, noting where I would have to turn. For awhile, I enjoyed the sun on my face, taking in the neighborhood, the shops and cafes, and the grand cathedrals that really seemed to pop out of nowhere.

But soon it seemed that I had been walking an awfully long time and still nothing I recognized from the morning. Upon consulting both my map, the maps at the bus stations, and the compass on my phone, I realized that I had made a wrong turn somewhere and had ended up in the complete other direction! After much more map and compass consultation, as well as being convinced my legs would fall off with my body still moving forward, I made it back to the hotel. Again, I prayed that my room was not a dump. But as I opened the door to my fifth floor room, I was pleasantly surprised by a small, simple room that smelled normal, perhaps had been around for some time, but was charming in its simplicity. The crowning jewel of it being the genuine black metal twisted balcony that I had been longing after. Just a pair of rickety wood shutters and I would have declared it the perfect hotel. Inspiried, I dragged the desk chair and ottoman from the room out onto the balcony, propped my feet up, and planned my next move in the cooling afternoon air.

After a quick nap, I decided to find some dinner and looked up a place from my tour book. An award winning restaurant boasting reasonable prices on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) near the Notre Dame Cathedral caught my eye, and I was off on my way again.
The restaurant was easy to find and the neighborhood was wonderfully charming. I was among the first there for dinner and took a seat outside on the terrace. My french failed with the waiter, but he started a lively conversation with me in english. On my inquiry for a wine recommendation, he brought out a bottle of Bordeaux.

“But you sell it by the glass, right?” I asked, afraid of shelling out thirty euro for a bottle of wine I'd only drink half of at most.
“No, you have to have the whole bottle.” he grinned.
“Then you'll have to help me drink it.” I answered, still unsure if it was a joke or not.
He laughed. “Maybe later!”
“Or else you'll have to carry me out of here.” I said in mock warning.
“Where are you living?” he asked.
“Montparnasse. It's kind of far from here.”
“Yes it is.”
“So you'd better only give me the glass.”
He laughed again. “Don't worry! It's just the glass!”

To accompany the wine, I ordered a filet of duck with vegetables and potatoes. Delicious.

I learned my waiter was the son of the restaurant's owner and that he originated from Provence. In turn, I told him what I did and he asked to hear an example, so I played him one of the new Estampie songs. Unfortunately after that, the place got busy, so I paid my bill and left.

On this trip, I had been meaning to find the church from Midnight in Paris where Gil was picked up and whisked away to the 20s. I knew it was in the area and after a little hunting around, I found the street. It lead me up a steep hill full of cute little bars and cafes. Finally at the top of the hill, I saw it! It really did look just like in the movie and I couldn't help taking some silly photos.

Is it time?
Is it coming?

Of course no car came to take me to the 1920s (it wasn't midnight after all) but I did see a stunning sunset over the Mairie du 5e.

Dinner digested, I went off in search of a good glass of wine. But nothing seemed to strike my fancy and I let myself wander around until I came to the Notre Dame itself.

Backtracking along the left bank, I finally settled on a corner cafe with an extensive wine list. I ordered a Côte du Rhone red which had an intense, fruity tang. I wasn't quite sure if I liked it. But then the waiter brought out a plate with slices of delicious looking salami. Pairing the two together was perfect and it brought out the subtler flavors of the wine.

Satisfied and happy, I returned to the hotel to get a good night's sleep in order to tackle the next adventure: The Louvre.

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