Paris: Impressions and Digestions

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My sleep pattern is normalizing. The room is hot enough that I have to open a window to sleep, a disappointing development given the cost of the room. But the breakfast is free and delicious – I eat a croissant every morning, and have some ham and soft cheese on a baguette with my coffee. Hannah, the server, and I strike up a conversation. Hannah remembers me from my previous stay, which is nice. She’s willing to let me practice my French with her without judgment. It’s her birthday – must remember to get her a card.

Today is another museum – Le Musee d’Orsay. The sun makes an appearance, and so we get off at Ligne 1 Tuleries and walk across the park. The Orsay Museum is just across and down from the Louvre, but the way the roads work it is easier to cross closer to the Louvre than Place de la Concorde. And even in winter the Tulieries Garden is pretty, full of crows and joggers.

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NOTE: The Musee d’Orsay is closed on Mondays. I guess, like the artists it holds, it likes to make its own rules.

Unlike the Louvre, which houses centuries of Art, the Musee d’Orsay is primarily concerned with the later half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Here is where you’ll find the Impressionists – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, etc. You can see the peasants of Millet, some of the sculptures of Rodin (though Rodin has his own excellent museum nearby), and the furniture of the Art Nouveau movement.

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If you were to visit them in historical order – Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou – you would see the change in artistic style as far as painting goes. The Renaissance pieces with their pre-approved religious and mythological themes giving way to the darker palettes and symmetry of Ingre and David, moving further to explorations of shadow and color by Delacroix and Gericault, and then the fracturing into many smaller movements – Impressionists, Barbizan, Orientalism, Pointillism, etc. The palette lightens, the dimensions flatten. Symbolism gives way to realism, only to reassert itself. Pompidou is the Modernists and Post-Modernists – Chagall, Kandinsky, and the contemporary artists whose names I have yet to learn.

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The interior of an Art Nouveau room – you can see how it might have inspired the architecture in Lord of the Rings, given the swoops and circles.

And then there is the subject of the human body. The “pure” voluptuous forms of the 19th century give way to the warped bodies of Toulouse-Lautrec, the harsh whites of Manet. And then there’s Courbet’s “L’origine du Monde,” which is just a painting of a vagina au naturel– right out there on the wall, getting a lot of laughs from teenagers. It got a lot of laughs from my high school class when we visited – I imagine that crotch will elicit titters for as long as it hangs on that wall. Or as long as the world makes teenagers. It still manages to make me slightly offended somehow. Seeing it forces me to admit that I actually prefer the hip-heavy, sexless women of the earlier years to the “real” women depicted by later artists. Perhaps because though it’s more accurate, more real, it’s also so very unceremonious. Women might have been objectified into classic forms of beauty, but at least we were photo-shopped along the way. Courbet makes a really great point (that life stems from women) even as he seems to minimize its impact (look how boringly physical your point of origin is).

I like the Orsay – it makes me think about what I like more than the Louvre. Perhaps it is because of the general fracturing of ideas, with clear delineations and methods. I love Caillebotte, but am not a fan of Manet. I find Orientalism fascinating and a natural offshoot of Romanticism, but I am not drawn to Rousseau’s naturalism (though I do like the philosopher Rousseau). I will say I have a greater appreciation for Van Gogh now than I did when studying him in humanities. His work vibrates.

Another day of walking and art.

Dinner: Christmas Market! Dotting the city in the holiday season, the Christmas markets are great places to get a cheap sandwich and some hot mulled wine. I enjoy a sandwich jambon (ham), and a gaufre nutella (waffle with nutella on top). These markets are good places to scout out souvenirs, especially dried meats, cheeses, and candies. Skip the ornaments and other dust collectors, in my opinion.

Also popular are roasted chestnuts – if you want to know why they’re in the Christmas Song, this is your opportunity to taste and see!

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Meat! Glorious meat grills!

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“Vin chaud” = “hot wine” A vos santé!

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Un gaufre nutella – also known as a walking cavity dish. Just turn the damn thing over and shake off some of the excess hazelnut spread. Unless you don’t mind feeling the sugary spread coat you teeth.

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