Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Walk 4: Of Art, War, and World's Fairs: Invalides, Musée Rodin, and Tour Eiffel

This was one of those walks that ended up spreading across several days due to intense laziness and incredibly poor timing. When I set out with Rebecca and Hanna on a windy morning, none of us were really in the mood for a walk, but we did get some pretty amazing pictures as we crossed Pont Alexandre III, a bridge symbolizing the friendship of France and Russia.

We got a little lost along the way, but eventually found Invalides (Hanna had already been to the Musée Rodin, so Rebecca and I saved it for another day). Unfortunately, it was about to close. End of walk attempt #1.

Rebecca and I went the next Tuesday with Courtney to the Musée Rodin, which was pretty incredible, given that it was a 300 year old Rococo home where Rodin actually lived in the early 1900s. This was the first time I had a chance to see Rodin’s work in person, and I was fascinated by the way his bronzes captured people in complicated poses.

The Musée also gave us an opportunity to see “The Kiss” and to take a classic pose in front of “The Thinker.”

Thinking we would be able to finish the walk, we headed to Invalides, only to discover that it was closed for a special event. End of walk attempt # 2.

Walk attempt #3: Rebecca and I were determined to get the walk done, so we spent a lovely morning that same weekend heading yet again to Invalides. Lucky for us, it was actually open (and not just to VIPs), and we even got in free with our magical art passes. Although we saw Napoleon’s tomb, which was just a little extravagant, and the armor of various French kings, my favorite part of the museum was definitely the WWI and WWII exhibits. It was a 20th century history major’s dream come true. I loved seeing the dummies paratroopers dropped to distract German troops on D-day and the uniforms of soldiers from around the world, and I was particularly moved to see the clothing, uniforms, and personal belongings of Holocaust victims. I must have been really caught up in this part of the museum, because I didn’t actually take any pictures.

Since the weather was gorgeous, we finished up the walk at the Eiffel Tower. Confession: I lived in Paris for more two months before actually going to the Eiffel Tower. Even though I had seen it from a distance, seeing it up close was a whole new experience. It’s huge! I was tempted to go to the top, but I think I’ll save it for one of my last days in Paris.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Walk 15: Saint-Ouen's Labyrinth

When I think of a flea market, I think of tables of antiques in a crowded outdoor space. Mostly I imagine a few treasures amid mountains of junk. If you’re heading to Saint-Ouen’s, get this picture out of your head right away. Sure there’s a little cheapy market to fake out tourists, but keep going a little further (in an area that is more than a little creepy) until you hit a very average looking, rather ugly street with normal looking buildings. Turn left onto it, and you will have stumbled across the biggest flea market in the world.

It turns out that flea markets are actually indoors a lot of the time, since I hardly saw any merchandise out in the open air. Rebecca, Ariel, Hanna, and I went together (I’m guessing Ariel and Hanna’s respective bright blonde and very red hair made us a dead giveaway as tourists – oops), and we found out that individual mini mall-style markets line the streets. My favorite was probably Marché Dauphine was probably my favorite thanks to its collection of vintage books, art prints, and clothing – basically all of the antiques that could possibly tempt me.

The Marché Biron was also pretty incredibly, but definitely not because I was tempted to buy anything. This was not the market for a poor college student budget. Between the priceless works of art and Rococo (or as our very French art teacher would say, “Rocaille”) furniture, I was a little overwhelmed by the glamour. I did risk the wrath of a French shop owner, though, by petting her fluffy little dog. He seemed a little confused by my attention, actually, just like all the French babies I keep smiling at.

The rest of the walk is pretty much a blur of tiny spaces and cool trinkets. The only items that really caught my eye were a collection of copper cookware. Then I realized: how am I ever supposed to get pots and pans home with me? Crisis effectively averted.

Walk 17: Small Buildings Need Not Apply

My last full Paris walk was definitely one of my favorites. Hanna had already done this walk, Ariel, Rebecca, and I stuck it out until the end of the day. Anyone who knows me knows that my tastes are pretty traditional – I want to live in a Colonial style house, wear Audrey Hepburn clothes, and have children named Elizabeth and William – so they might be as shocked as I was by my love for the modern architecture at La Défense.

Parisians are big fans of their uniform 18th century skyline, so they put up a big fuss any time a building over four stories tall goes up in their beloved city. This meant that when post World War II business demanded an area for skyscrapers, they were relegated to the outskirts at La Défense. The area earned its name from a sculpture by Louis-Ernest Barrias honoring those who fought against the Prussians during the siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War.

Coming out of the metro, the first thing to catch our attention was the Grande Arche – it’s kind of hard to miss. Meant to be a 20th century echo of the Arche de Triomphe, this GIANT arch is actually a skyscraper filled with offices. We turned around to get a pretty incredible view of Paris, including the original arch, before heading up toward the Grande Arche.

Along the way, we saw some pretty crazy sculptures, like Bassin Takis:

Grande Mosaïque:

Cheminée d’aératioin:

Le Pouce:

and my personal favorite, which I don’t know the name of:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cultural Activity: Siddharta

I loved growing up in Montana, but I’m realizing that it limited some of my cultural opportunities. I’ve seen my fair share of rodeos, but until tonight I had never actually seen a ballet. Rather than starting off with something nice and traditional, like The Nutcracker, our group jumped headfirst into the world of modern ballet with Siddharta, which told the journey of a young man seeking enlightenment. Too bad I didn’t know that. Honestly, I had no idea what was going on story wise during the ballet, but I didn’t mind at all (for those who like a little more context, check out the link above and here.

Throughout the ballet, I was fascinated by the strength and flexibility of the dancers and most of all by the control they have over their bodies. I also loved seeing the costumes, especially the gauzy white dresses worn by the ballerinas; they made the girls look like they were moving under water. Some things were a little weird – notably when a giant house twirled in the air, but I still really liked the ballet overall. At the time, I didn’t try to think through what I was seeing (although it’s fun to do now), instead choosing to sit back and enjoy the stunning choreography and costumes. I felt that it was truly beautiful and truly unique.

Walk 6: Marcher le Nez au Vent: Sights and Smells around the Madeleine

Yay! It’s the last walk. Well, I guess it’s only a partial yay: I’m glad to have finally finished all of them so I can focus on getting some other work done, but it’s sad that I’m getting closer to the end. I can't believe there's only one months left.

I’m a little confused actually. Olivier claimed that the metro stop at the start of the walk would smell terrible, but when we got off the train at the Madeleine I didn’t smell anything apart from normal metro smell. Maybe I’m too used to it at this point. I definitely did get a delicious whiff, however, as Rebecca, Chelsea, Angela, and I passed by the flower market full of tulips and daisies. I’m so excited about spring flowers coming out!

We spent a little time at the massive Église de la Madeleine, which went through a complicated history as a Catholic Church (pre-revolution), monument to the French Army (Napoleon era), and Catholic Church (restoration).

Then it was time for a treat at Laudurée, where macaroons were invented. The shop itself was adorable, and all of our treats came in cute boxes and bags. While the other girls tried out the macaroons (which they kindly shared samples of), I opted for the religieuse rose, which is essentially a tiny rose-flavored cream puff on top of a rose-flavored éclair. The name was certainly not misleading, since eating that pastry was definitely a religious experience – just thinking about its surprise raspberry center makes my mouth water.

Once we had brushed off our pastry crumbs, we went to the Chapelle de l’Assomption, which was charming. Built in its present form in 1676, the church sees few tourists and is instead used by actual worshippers. I think we were all excited to see a nun there in a full habit, but a sudden urge to giggle because the room was so quiet meant that we couldn’t stay long.

I was a little worried about going to the Fragonard Musée du Parfum, since most perfumes give me terrible headaches, but I ended up not having any trouble there. I enjoyed learning about the natural ingredients and seeing the copper machinery used in the perfume-making process. Maybe I can handle perfume after all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Walk 2: Metro Walk

Rebecca and I are stupid, stupid girls. Or maybe we’re just crazy. Either way, we ended up putting off doing the metro walk until almost the end of the semester. Since we’ve been living in Paris for more than two months a this point and use the metro daily, we decided to do our own version of the walk so that we could focus on the sights and lines we haven’t seen yet.

We ride line 12 on a regular basis, so we decided to start out on line 14 instead of following the given directions. Other members of the group had told us to ride at the very front of the train, and we quickly found out why: The line is completely automated! You can actually look out a window in the front and see the dark tunnel coming up ahead of you. It was like a slow, poorly animated theme park ride (but still really cool, I promise).

At Saint Lazare (which had a awesome vaulted ceiling – sorry the picture’s so blurry) we chained onto line 3 and then changed onto the 2 at Villiers. Since we weren’t too thrilled to be spending a beautiful day on the metro, we pretended to be really enthusiastic about the tile and took lots of pictures.

We then took line 2 to its end at Porte Dauphine. Incidentally, dauphine is the word for both the crown prince and a dolphin in French – I guess the Academie Française missed that one. We went above ground for a quick break at the end of the line and a chance to see one of Hector Guimard’s famous metro entrances.

Then we backtracked on the 2 to Stalingrad and stopped to see the Rotonde de la Villette, a tollhouse built by Louis XVI before going back underground at Juarès to head home. Along the way we also saw a funny protest poster prepared by some linguistically confused individual.

Despite the smells, crowds, and awkward conversations with homeless people, I love the metro. It’s so nice to be able to get on a train and go anywhere I want in the city. I was trying to explain to my mom the other day that I never worry about getting lost in Paris, because I just have to walk a few blocks in any direction to find a Metro entrance, and once I’m underground I know exactly where I am. She asked me if I knew how bizarre that sounded. Maybe it does, but this is one aspect of Parisian life I’m definitely going to miss.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Walk 19: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

So, I just received a letter from my friend Jaclyn, and I figure that if she can find the time to write me a letter, I can find the time to blog. This seems especially true when I consider that I NEED to blog for two of my classes. All right, Shaina, let's get to work.
This afternoon a big group of us met up at Père-Lachaise, on of the world’s largest and most fascinating cemeteries. It’s so large that it actually has streets and road signs to keep you from getting lost. Maybe it’s morbid, but I actually really like cemeteries, and this one was particularly cool, since it looked like something straight out of a Halloween movie. The gray skies, crumbling tombs, fallen leaves, and black cats definitely added to the spooky atmosphere.

To be honest, I knew nothing about many of the people whose tombs we saw today. Seriously, who is Enrico Cerniushi? Some of the others I had heard about in classes, though, so I now have proof that I’m still learning, even though I’m in Paris. I now know, for example, that Théodore Géricault painted the Raft of the Medusa, that Georges-Eugénge Haussmann rebuilt Paris under Napoleon III, and that Héloise and Abélard were legendary lovers. It turns out that being a tourist is more fun when you know something about what you’re looking at.

I was most excited to see two tombs in particular, however. The first on my list was the grave of Colette. I must confess that I’ve never actually read any of her works, but I am eternally grateful to her for discovering my hero, Audrey Hepburn. She once saw Audrey making a small English film and declared “There is my Gigi!” She demanded that Audrey star in the Broadway musical for her novella of that name, and the rest is history. Thanks, Collette. You make my list of favorite people.

The other site I really wanted to visit was the tomb of Oscar Wilde. My favorite play is The Importance of Being Ernest, and I also love An Ideal Husband and several other Wilde works. Whether I read his plays, see them performed live, or watch the movies, they never fail to make me laugh out loud (For a little taste, you can watch one of my favorite scenes from The Importance of Being Ernest). So of course I had to pay homage in the traditional way of Wilde fans: I kissed his tomb. After applying a little lip gloss and puckering up, here was my result:

I also appreciated seeing the monuments to Holocaust victims, especially after visiting Normandy a couple of days ago. On Thursday I was able to see the final resting place of thousands of young Americans, and today I was reminded of those they died to save. They paid the ultimate price to save others from ultimate suffering. We can never be grateful enough.

Walk 9: Follow the Money

So, I don’t really have much to say about this walk. By the time we did it, it was getting to be later in the day, most stores were closed, we had already done two walks, and we were in a hurry to get to Breakfast in America (the best possible place to go if you’re tired of Parisian food). I didn’t even take many pictures. Oh well, here goes:

This walk began at the Louvre. Well, not THE Louvre, but the Louvre des antiquaires, a very fancy antique shop. I think I would feel guilty going in there, given that I even feel guilty going into Nordstrom in Provo if I have a sweatshirt on. Next up was the Comedie Française, where Molière’s actual descendants perform. Neat to know, but not exactly thrilling.

I did enjoy seeing the garden in the courtyard of Cardinal Richelieu’s Palais Royal. The buildings date back to Louis XIII’s time, but the garden is decorated by some thoroughly modern artwork. Daniel Buren seriously ticked off some Parisian purists when he created these sculptures in 1986. I didn't take any pictures because I thought I already had some, so I had to steal this from somewhere online. Shhhh...don't tell.

We saw the Bibliothèque national, the French national library, next. We thought about going in, but pancakes were calling, and I think the library was about to close anyway. We also saw la Bourse, the French Stock Market, before finishing out in a covered passage filled with interesting little shops. Most were closing down for the day, but I made sure to glance into the window of the shop selling antique letters and stamps. If you ever need a letter written by a random person way back in the day, I know just where to send you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Walk 14: Eighteenth-Century Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Hands down, this was one of my favorite walks I’ve done since I’ve been in Paris. Our first stop was the Musée Jacquemart-André, which was formerly the home of … you guessed it, Jacquemart-André. Although it was still the house of a wealthy individual, it was super interesting to see the home of a non-royal. It felt far more lived in than Versailles. Thanks to Valerie and all the hours we’ve spent in the Louvre, I was familiar with the artists we were seeing, which made the whole experience more fun. The most stunning part of the house had to have been its grand double staircase – I’m just sorry I couldn’t take pictures inside.

We then got to see Parc Monceau, which appeared to be a Parisian runners paradise. Apart from a few weirdos, the French aren’t particularly into jogging, but apparently all the weirdos really like this park. I was excited to see an English-style garden right in the middle of Paris, and the “ruins” made me chuckle.

After the park we went to the Musée Nissim de Camondo, which has an incredible collection of European furniture. They were about to close, so Rebecca and I hurried through the house, trying to take in all of the furniture and artwork. I particularly liked seeing the china room, which housed hundreds of dishes in various patterns, including one set with gorgeous birds of all kinds. My favorite part was absolutely the kitchen, though. There was an incredible stove, a servants dining room, and a butler’s pantry with a special pulley system to send food up to the dining room. I was also intrigued by the story of the family who lived there. They were wealthy Jews who built the house in the early 1900s, but their daughter and her family ended up dying at Auschwitz during World War II. Once again, sorry I couldn't take any pictures.

Overall, the day made me think about my experiences volunteering at the Moss Mansion in high school. The Moss Mansion is definitely much smaller, but it dates to the same time period and had a lot of the same features. In all three houses I could see the same taste for Oriental details, for gothic revival, and for having extensive servants quarters. It turns out that the 18th-century lifestyles of the rich and famous were actually pretty similar whether they happened in Paris or in Billings, Montana.

Walk 20: La Route des Manifs

Today I added yet another first to my list of Paris first – my first protest! A group of us came out of the metro after reading all about how the Place de la République is the traditional site for French protests, and there was a demonstration, right before our very eyes. I got really excited when I really who was demonstrating, because it was the group Ni Putes ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissives), who I had learned about in my European politics class last semester. As far as I understand, this group fights against using religion as an excuse for discrimination against women. I think they were protesting the burqa today, since everyone was wearing read hoods, and they a few people climbed up onto the statue to cover the sculptures in black cloth. Pretty exciting stuff.

We went over to the canal, which was built in the early 1800s, but it was a little anticlimactic, even if it was pretty. Then we worked our way down to the Place de la Bastille, where a large greenish column honors those who died in the 1830 Revolution, before finishing up along the Viaduc des Arts and outside the Opéra Bastille.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Walk 8: Marais 2

Today we busted out walks like no other. I have to say I’m pretty proud of us. First I started out with Rosalie, Rich, and Rebecca doing the second Marais Walk, which explores the historic Jewish community of Paris (I felt a little left out since my name didn’t start with an “R”).

After passing by a Jewish synogogue designed by Hector Guimard, the famous Art Nouveau architect, we made a quick stop at a falafel restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers. I gave in and tried a falafel for the first, and possibly last time, today. The falafels themselves were actually really good, but something about the shredded vegetables made me gag (probably because my body doesn’t recognize vegetables as food any more – our host family never eats them). The memorial plaque for victims of the Holocaust at the Jewish elementary school we saw next made me think of one of my favorite French films, Au Revoir Les Enfants. The Hôtel de Soubise and Hôtel Rohan, which came next on our agenda, but since we had so many walks left to get done, we decided to just look around outside. The research-lover deep within me really wants to come back someday, since these Hôtels house the French National Archives.

The Musée Cognacq-Jay ended up being really interesting because of its 18th-century furniture and design. I really excited to discover that, thanks to art history class in the Louvre, I recognized the artwork of many of the French painters Valerie has taught us about. Now that I’ve given a presentation on Greuze, I felt the need to take the pictures of his paintings at the museum. If you ever want a random lesson about him, just let me know – I’ve got all kind of random facts floating around in my head. Unfortunately, our art education for the day had to end there, since the Musée Picasso is closed for the next two years. Incidentally, if you ever plan on coming to Paris, come in 2012, the year when all kinds of restoration projects around the city will be done.