Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Velasquez, the Tudors, the Abbey Bookshop

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m playing catch up with the blog – pictures are one thing but my priceless prose is another. (As my kids say - LOL.)

So – on Monday, Velasquez at the Grand Palais, a gorgeous exhibition though very crowded. Today I went to an exhibit about the Tudors and saw portraits of Henry VIII and the Virgin Queen painted at the same time Velasquez, in Italy and Spain, was painting dwarves, hideous Bourbon kings, little Infantas in their absurdly ornate clothes, and the most beautiful back in art. Talk about absurdly ornate clothes, though – those British royals were something. Weighed down with massive jewels. Wonder what that feels like.

Velasquez, who started painting at the age of 12, captures the soul so perfectly, with understanding and depth – especially clear when you compare his work to that of his son-in-law del Mazo, who worked with him all his life. The younger painter was really good, until you see his work next to the master’s, so much richer, livelier, subtler yet stronger. There’s a beautiful quote about Velasquez by the painter de Stael, which I’ll translate badly: Solid, calm, unswervingly rooted, the painter of painters, an equal distance from kings and dwarves, an equal distance from himself and from others. Something for a writer to aspire to, too.

Out into the day – not raining, always good news – wandering again around St. Germain, home to the 14th and out for dinner with Jean-Louis. When I dined with his family on Sunday, I accidentally took his phone when I left; we met Monday so I could give it back. We had a great talk, 51 years after we first met, about his crazy family and mine.

Tuesday was cleaning the apartment thoroughly and moving to the Hotel Port Royal in the 5th. My hood. I am very happy to be back. The 14th felt like real Paris, few tourists, mostly working families coming home after work with their groceries and baguettes. The apartment was big and bright, and my landlady reduced my rent considerably because of the noise. I almost considered staying. But this is the part of Paris I know well. Took my hosts Paolo and Annie for coffee on the rue Mouffetard, one of my favourite streets in all Paris. Watched a man with waist-length dreadlocks push a toddler in a stroller beside an older child; I remember him from my stay a few years ago, though he didn’t have children then. Spent the rest of the day walking, walking, revisiting my old stomping grounds, and emailing from my room. Was not feeling well so took it easy, which was welcome. It was so windy a storekeeper told me a woman was blown right off her bicycle.

Today, walking again – there’s sun though it’s cold, and tomorrow will be rain. I walked to my favourite Monge market and all the same merchants were there, then down to find the Abbey Bookshop. A Canadian flag outside – the owner is from Toronto. It’s heaven, packed with books old and new, a wonderful place I'd never been to before. I wanted to talk to the owner Brian about my book but he was busy – I’ll probably go back tomorrow. Found by chance, as I looked around entranced, exactly the book I need right now: “Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction,” by Tracy Kidder and his editor. Later I sat in the Jardins du Luxembourg reading it. A guide on my own writing journey.

Lunch in a great student place off the Boulevard St. Michel with a soundtrack by the Shirelles, the Stones and B. B. King – heaven. Then to Luxembourg to see the Tudors. On the way, I did something I’ve always wanted to do – stop in the famous little umbrella shop on the Boul Mich. Hundreds of umbrellas. I treated myself to one that’s strong and very light, for tomorrow’s storm. Tonight dinner at a nearby bistro with my friend Juliet, a fellow blogger.

Tomorrow, my last day in this sublime city, in the rain. On Friday, off to London, where luckily it never rains.


  1. Informative and entertaining as ever Beth; good news, high pressure forecast for the weekend, so, dare I say it....sunshine in London! ☀️Carole

  2. Please do not tempt me to be hopeful, Carole ... sunshine in London after cold wet Paris would be too much to imagine. So I will assume I'll freeze there too and let the gods surprise me. Or not.

  3. Think you might be right Beth, I was being a tad optimistic, England being England...the weather changes on an hourly basis! The sun is brilliantly out this morning but not so good for the weekend, just dull hopefully, nooooooo rain, please. Enjoy London, whatever.����