Saturday, April 25, 2009

back and burbling

Helloooo, she sang out, waving wildly. Yoo hoo! I'm back!

Suffering from Stendahl Syndrome these days, a condition in which people are so affected by great art that they suffer dizziness and blackouts.  I went to the Rodin Museum yesterday, on the most perfect spring day imaginable - fresh and sunny with a hint of wind - and was knocked over. I was expecting a museum with sculptures in it. But it's a whole magnificent little chateau, the 18th century Hotel Biron, with a stunning garden and sculptures everywhere. I went out first to enjoy the garden with its emerald lawns, flower beds, ancient trees, and kids lying on the ground sketching the Rodins. 

And then there were the Rodins. I wept twice. Once, sitting in that garden by the fountain with the sun on my face and beauty everywhere, just grateful to be alive and in this place. The second time, walking in a quiet, dark little park at the side where the individual sculptures that make up the great "Burghers of Calais" are situated. It's a sculpture of a group of men who have been defeated by the English and who are bringing the keys of their city to the enemy, knowing that they will be killed. Each has a different personality, and displayed separately, as they are here, they're overwhelmingly powerful, with huge hands and feet, veins and knotted neck muscles and sinews on these giant figures in bronze. And their faces, twisted, dark, terrified, resigned, noble - so real, so much bigger than real. I touched one of those beautiful cold real hands and was so flooded with emotion, I honestly thought I was going to pass out.  

So nothing's new since I last wrote. Still simply too much pleasure to absorb in this glorious town . 

Today I went for a walk; because it was drizzling, I thought the tourists might stay home and I'd get into Notre Dame more easily, but the line-up stretched across the entire square in front. There was a pro-life demonstration going on too, with balloons and drums, but no one seemed to be paying the slightest attention. I visited nearby St. Severin instead, a pretty Gothic church where a family was gathering for a christening. How wonderful to be christened in a fifteenth century church.

When the rain got heavy, I went to the Cluny, the Museum of the Middle Ages, one of my favourite museums in Paris. My kids and I went there fifteen years ago, and though they were not the keenest of museum-goers (putting it mildly), seeing the Lady with the Unicorn tapestries wowed them. And wowed me again today. You walk through room after incredible room with masterpieces from the Middle Ages and earlier - one room devoted to Roman carving that's been excavated - and end up in a magical round dark place with floor to ceiling magnificent fifteenth century tapestries on all sides, glowing at you.  Five, devoted to the senses - touch, sight, sound, taste, smell - and the last, probably to love and understanding. 

They're so ornate, it's mind-boggling to imagine the work involved - first in the backgrounds, which feature endless flowers and small, gorgeously detailed small animals and birds, and then the foreground figures, the lady and her minions, the lion on one side of her and the stunning unicorn, with his wise, loving face, on the other. 

And then, suffering yet again from Stendahl syndrome, you exit through yet more, many more rooms with more masterpieces - carved alterpieces and countless other religious tableaux and artifacts, plus ceramic bowls, ivory miniatures, gold jewelry, armour and swords ... and almost everything is anonymous, made by craftsmen and women of the time, creating beauty for their god or their master, or both. 

I have fallen in love with humankind again, so grateful am I for all the labour that has gone into making beauty for us to cherish through the centuries. Who was the first person who looked at a dead elephant and thought, I could carve something from those tusks?

Okay, I'll calm down now. I had to buy a pain au chocolat on the way home to bring me down to earth. 

Several other bits and pieces: here's something I saw yesterday which you wouldn't see at home: in the Jardin des Plantes, a school group, kids aged about 9, being shepherded through the park by their teacher who was puffing a cigarette. 

And why don't we see this at home? Another park had ping-pong tables, made of some solid rainproof substance with net, enthusiastically being used by kids. I guess they bring their own balls and paddles. What a great idea. Let's go to the park and play ping-pong.

The busses are phenomenal here. Before I go anywhere, I try to find a bus route there so I don't have to go underground and can look out at Paris; it's rare I can't find one. The bus shelters have clear maps, and the chief points of its route are printed on sides of the busses themselves. Yesterday, after Rodin, I had a blister (once again, I broke the cardinal rule of the traveller, don't wear new shoes) and didn't want to walk too far. A bus stopped right next to me, as I wandered, with "Pantheon" on the front.  That's close to chez moi, so on I hopped - another nearby bus I can get around town sometime.  They are built low, easily accessible to strollers and go even lower easily for wheelchairs. Beautifully designed, efficient, clearly marked and omnipresent - that's how a bus service should be.

I am reading Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast," which is fascinating because he lived near here and is writing about places I wander by every day. But boy, he could be vicious about other writers. Tonight I'll finish that, read the new "Elle," and the European "Time" magazine which I bought as a treat because it's about Obama's first 100 days, and then begin "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong," that Tony lent me. I had a big lunch of lapin - rabbit, not duck - and endive with a glass of wine, so am having a salad of some kind for supper with bread and cheese, and another glass, or two, of wine. But that's all. Positively abstemious, after the last few dinners. 

So - I raise my glass of rouge to you, my friends. The damp chilly rain is supposed to continue for the next few days. I hope the sun is shining where you are, if not outside then in your hearts. Because it certainly is in mine.  


18 comments:

  1. Great to have you back Beth. We are getting addicted to this. You might not be allowed to leave Paris.
    I remember Rodin's garden well, as it was one of the places we could walk to during the transportation strike we encountered. Rodin's a modern sculptor who could probably stand up to the old masters.
    We also enjoyed the garden in front of Napoleon's Tomb and a hospital nearby. Carolyn Kellett

    ReplyDelete
  2. Carolyn, I might not WANT to leave Paris. I agree with you about Rodin - in fact, I've just changed my mind about old and new masters and am about to post those thoughts.
    I'll put Napoleon's tomb on my list. Bruce has given me many suggestions too.
    On we go. Or as they say here - on y va!
    beth

    ReplyDelete
  3. When we saw Notre-Dame, the lineup was clear across the square - and it took no more than 10 minutes to get in... since they don't charge entrance, the lines go really fast. All they care about is that your skirt isn't too short, and your shoulders are covered. Wait next time, you'll see!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's good to know, Chuck. No problem being covered - it's freezing and raining here right now. I'll try again soon. I'm trying to make it a specialty to pick times that'll avoid line-ups - but sometimes you just have to stand there, it's true.
    b.

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