In the last week we’ve covered a lot of territory: the Luxembourg Gardens, the Paris catacombs, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur and Espace Dalí. We’ve also found time for milongas, checking out more boulangeries and patisseries, and getting our Paris Metro passes. First rule of thumb for Paris newbies: try to avoid getting lost in the Luxembourg Gardens. I wandered off from Ben one fine day, looking for the w.c., and I couldn’t find my way back!
This beautiful fountain (Fontaine de l’Observatoire, 1874) reminds me of the Fontana di Trevi in Rome, which predates the Luxe Garden’s fountain by 112 years. The Romans tended to build fountains where their aqueducts converged. This fountain is a natural spot to meet up with someone, cause it’s so large you can’t miss it. Plus, it’s right at the south entrance to the Gardens.
The water spilling over the edge and into the still pool is just lovely. Above them four nymphs are circling, symbolically representing the earthly sphere, with its four directions and four colors of humankind. The figures hold aloft a circular band with the 12 symbols of the Zodiac. Pretty cosmic stuff! You might say it prefigured the hippie era. Farther on is a long strip of green lawn edged with shade trees and dotted with sculptures.
The lawns were busy with families, kids playing, couples romancing, and teenage girls in bikinis on beach blankets getting a head start on their summer tans.
The Luxembourg Gardens were built in 1615 by Marie d’Medici, Queen consort of France. She was the second wife of Henry IV. The palace was modeled after the Palazzo Pitti, in Marie’s hometown of Florence, Italy. Following the assassination of her husband in 1610, which occurred the day after her coronation (yikes!) Marie acted as regent for her son, King Louis XIII, until he came of age. She was noted for her involvement in the ceaseless political intrigues at the French court, and also for her extensive artistic patronage. And we thought our era was full of Sara Palins, Andy Warhols and Sarkozys?
If you walk past the huge reflecting pool, where pint-size sailing ships stage battles, there are acres and acres of trees, planted in straight lines that crisscross like a grid. Beneath the trees are dozens of park benches, also set in rows and interspersed with more sculptures, fountains, a carousel, an apple orchard, a café, pony rides… it’s an enormous invisible labyrinth! Every time you stop and turn around, it looks the same… trees and benches all around you. Are you getting that lost feeling yet? A bit dizzy? Like, too many giros? Not to worry, along came an avenging angel on horseback to save the day!
With his cell phone beeping, is more like it. The tall guy was glad to find me, and plenty pissed off about my being lost for two hours! Here I am looking lost (but not really lost) on a rainy day in our neighborhood:
especially if I walk into a Macy’s or even Target! Right brainers have more fun but we get into more trouble, too!
Anyhow, he got over it and his reward was a beautiful baguette!
After my traumatic day I was in serious need of caffeine and sugar. Luckily, that’s not a problem in Paris.
And if you really want to get lost, how about a delightful cobblestone street to find yourself in?
So one very pretty day we found ourselves in the Metro, heading up the hill to Montmartre. We got off at Abbesses, and a big elevator took us several flights up to a beautiful plaza. We walked up curvy cobblestone streets, past dozens of adorable cafés,
climbed up hundreds of stairs
finally arriving in the artsy tourist mecca, with its plaza packed full of artists sketching, painting, and displaying their works.
Montmartre is a charming picturesque art enclave. Of course, it was a real artists’ zone back in the late 19th / early 20th century, and later re-engineered as a tourist destination. And there really is a population of artists making a living every day in Montmartre, though the game has changed. A village of artists, by artists, for artists, now that’s a different animal. Unfortunately there are precious few such places left these early 21st century days. Maybe in San Telmo? San Luis Obispo?
The Plaza des Artistes is just a stone’s throw away from the huge white monolith of Sacre Coeur, built into the top of the hill.
We blinked as we caught sight of Paris spread out before us in the distance, huge and glittering like a medieval dragon about to take flight.
After somewhat restoring our much abused strength with some crunchy sweet pralines purchased from a street hawker, we walked up a few more flights of stairs into the cathedral. Mass had just begun, and we weren’t sure if we should take seats and pray or just follow the tide of tourists coming in one set of doors, circling and gawking (no photos please!) before exiting out another set of doors. But then we saw a regiment of nuns who began to march up the aisle singing, followed by six priests walking their timeless procession. The singing was beautiful, as singing by women who have the time to practice and rehearse should be, so we found seats, stood up, and sang along with everyone else. It was quite stirring and wonderful.
After partaking of free blessings on the house, we made our way back to the main plaza in search of the Musée Dalí. Properly known as Espace Dalí. We found the petit musée and spent a couple of hours looking at some of Dalí’s best drawings, paintings and sculptures (bronzes). We took time to read all the commentaries (in French and English, side by side, how thoughtful!) and we both enjoyed learning the background and thought processes of the artist on each piece. I didn’t know that he illustrated several books, including an edition of Alice in Wonderland and the Romance of Tristan and Isolde.
Dalí also did some work for Walt Disney and created the dream sequences for the Hitchcock movie Spellbound. I’m a fan of Hitchcock too, so it was interesting to learn of the Dalí connection.
I already knew something of Dalí’s friendship with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel (check out Los Olvidados, his classic 1950 documentary on street kids in Mexico City), along with Man Ray, Garcia Lorca, Picasso, Modigliani and the other artists and assorted groupies who lived in Montmartre in the early 1900s.
It was noted that the long twirling moustache Dalí developed (after the above snapshot) resembled that of 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Perhaps Dalí appropriated those curls to call forth Velázquez’ ancestral artistic spirit as a kind of inspirational muse? Or maybe they were proto-rhinoceros horns? Dalí called his method of creative design a “paranoic-critical method” of “accessing the subconscious” for creative inspiration.
Is that the Jungian collective unconscious or the artist’s personal subconscious? According to exhibit notes, Dalí’s iconic “melting watches” are “a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid and deterministic.”
We think Dalí was influenced by Einstein’s theory of relativity, which was published in 1916 (remember MC2?) and won Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921. Einstein postulated that time is relative and not fixed. Their paths may have crossed. Einstein emigrated to the United States in 1933, due to the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany. Dalí had his first New York gallery opening in 1934, entitled Persistance of Memory. Let’s just say it’s possible that Einstein was aware of the Surrealist Movement, and Dalí had most certainly heard of Einstein.
Dalí is so much fun! He is portrayed as being wildly egocentric, but I don’t really get that from his work. Sensitive, yes… creative — wow! off the charts!! but also loving… of nature, of women, of literature, of classical painting, of humankind’s creativity and contradictions.
I was delighted and astonished by actor Adrien Brody’s portrayal of Dalí in Midnight in Paris. He really brought Dalí to life for me! Apparently he saw a kind of cosmic geometry unfolding in the horns of a rhinoceros; as others see geometric designs in crystals, snowflakes, drops of water, honeycombs… you name it. And I don’t doubt that the universe truly has been formed in a perfect, geometric, yin/yang sort of unfolding. If the fundamental nature of matter in our universe can be traced to a handful of subatomic elements, then even the molecules of your mind spring forth from the patterns instilled in us from the beginning of time. As authors of our own stories, we play a director’s role, enabling us to pursue the perfection of our selves in a search for meaning that evolves in the context of natural harmony. I admit I’ve always been a fan of surrealist art–some of it LSD induced. “I don’t do drugs… I am drugs!” proclaims a t-shirt at the Espace Dalí gift shop.
I could go on and on about Dalí, but our 20th century genius is not in need of PR. The Art here in Paris is absolutely dazzling, to say the least. There is an amazing Degas exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay right now:
First Sunday of the month is free admission day at about 150 Paris museums, so that will only take us, let’s see, 12 first Sundays a year…. 2 museums in a day…. no way, that’s too tiring…. 1 museum per month… looks like we’ll have to stay here another 12 and a half years to see it all! The pressure is on!
Looks like I don’t have enough space in this post to cover the catacombs (spooky!) Paris milongas, Paris tango fashions, Paris tango etiquette, Paris DJs and Paris milonga music! Stay tuned for all that and more. And what about about springtime in Paris? She’s a fickle one, to be sure. Sunny and up into the 80s one day, absolutely gorgeous; chilly, windy and rainy the next; then hot and humid with thunderstorms! Isn’t that just like a woman?