Monday, February 23, 2009

Ah, Paris...

Where, oh where do I begin? I just spent the better part of a week in Paris, and my mind is flooded with everything I've seen and done, and so it will be impossible for me to relate everything in the depth that it deserves. I want to try to do what the impressionists did--I do not want to paint an exact image or show every hair on the head of Paris. I want to give you impressions of what Paris was like in my eyes. And it is important to note that my eyes are not your eyes or the eyes of my friends or the eyes of Pablo Picasso or anyone else's eyes. I am quite certain that Paris would be something completely different for each of you, and you would probably very well notice things I did not or dislike things that I enjoyed or you might have a completely different itinerary. And Paris is a gigantic city. I saw perhaps a sixteenth of it. No. Less.

The first thing I did after getting off the train was head over to the Cimetiere Montparnasse. The choice of a cemetery for my first stop is not at all symbolic, so don't fret. I haven't recommenced wearing black and staring into the abyss. No, this was my first stop because I arrived at the Gare Montparnasse, which is about 5 minutes from this particular cemetery, and there were a few specific graves I wanted to visit. The thing about cities is that a lot of people live there. Therefore, it should go without saying that a lot of people die there as well. Because more people die there, the likelihood of well-known people dying there is greater (not to mention the fact that most well-known people live in or die in cities). Thus, Paris is the burial ground for many, many people that I find interesting or, more than interesting, fascinating.

Take the above tombstone for instance. In case you can't read the names, this is the grave of Charles Baudelaire and his mother and stepfather. Baudelaire happens to be one of my favorite poets. He was probably a complete jerk in real life and thought that women were inferior and stupid, but his poetry is incredible and so I throw him a rose. The irony of this particular grave is that (and there is no way to put this gently) Baudelaire hated, despised, detested, boiled with poetic fury over his stepfather Jacques Aupick. And yet, here they are, together until even dust doesn't remain. I had a little chuckle (call me morbid or just plain weird) over that one.

The cemeteries of Paris are incredibly difficult to navigate, even with a map. I looked in vain for the grave of Samuel Beckett for quite some time. The graves are right up against one another with maybe an inch or two of space in between. There are bigger ones and smaller ones, and many of them have tiny chapels over them where family members can sit and pray and leave flowers or objects of remembrance. But it interests me how all these graves, graves of the famous and the unknown, are all just jumbled together, almost on top of one another. I don't want to get into the cliche of "death respects no one, blahblahblah," but it's hard not to think about how ephemeral it all is--life, fame, happiness, sadness. That is, perhaps, the main reason why I am here. Time is short. Get your groove on.

Well, after the cemetery I took the metro (amazing system, although after a week of riding around underground I started to fell a little pale and weary of being crushed at rush hour) to the Centre Georges Pompidou. If modern art is not your thing, don't bother coming here, although I found it to be wonderful. The thing about modern art is that you can't analyse it too much because that's contrary to the purpose of modern art. You also can't say that modern artists are just artists that can't draw or paint properly because most of them had conventional artistic formations and could probably reproduce the Mona Lisa. The power of modern art is that it doesn't try to reproduce the Mona Lisa because that's been done already. Moving on.

This museum always looked quite hideous to me in photos, and to be honest, this photo doesn't really look all that swell (when will the sun come out again?). But the premise of the design of the Centre Georges Pompidou is that all the pipes--water, air, etc.--are on the exterior of the building, creating an open, empty space for the artwork. The pipes are color-coded (blue for water, red for air, etc.), and so the outside of the building just looks like a tangle of pipes and metal. It actually has a strange appeal in person, although one critic likened it to an oil refinery. But when you consider that this is a museum of modern art, the design of the building is appropriate. Who wants another Louvre?

Museums are great. Apart from the fact that you can stare at famous works of art for as long as you want, museums are climate controlled (Paris was a little chilly), have places for you to stash your coat and bags, have free bathrooms, and usually have decent cafes inside. In short, the weary traveller should take advantage of museums. They're great places to chill. I could've spent hours and hours and hours in here. Highly recommended if you should ever make a jaunt to Paris. I'm quite happy that I skipped the Louvre and saw this museum instead. Not that the Louvre doesn't have some good offerings, but it's gigantic. You can get lost in there and spend a painfully long time roaming the ancient Greek and Roman art (do you find this stuff really boring or is it just me?). Besides, the Mona Lisa is about a foot tall and is usually so surrounded by school groups that you can't get a good look at it. After seeing it a couple years ago I remember wondering what the fuss was about (I mean, I get it, Leonardo was a genius, but why the fascination with this painting?).

So, I have way too many photos, and right now I can't figure out how to post more than 4 at a time using this new program that I installed. Be patient. There are many, many more to come.
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1 comment:

Fiona said...

Sounds like a great week. I love the Pompidou, for lots of reasons including the vibrant scene in the plaza during summer. Also, their bookstore is fabulous - art books I could not have imagined.

If you decide to see the Louvre on another trip, one option would be the evening hours (on Tuesdays, I think). Apparently they're far, far better in sheer numerical terms because all the children are in bed.