Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sculpture, Sculpture, Everywhere

Paris is like a sculpture to me. Look around most any corner and you can see the thought given to style, composition, and harmony. Somehow the culture collectively agrees that there is value in architecture as art. Speaking of sculpture we hope to spend the day at the d'Orsay and Rodin Museums, where there will be an abundance on view. Before we left, we made a short list of "must see" things and "must do" activities, and hope to cross a few off by the end of the day.

Sunday - September 20, 2009 - Paris, France

Earlier I mentioned Rich and Lucy's map and the more I pondered it, the more I appreciated and enjoyed it. Prior to the trip he and Lu researched places of interest and put clear tape stickies on the map marking their locations. Quickly I could see which were near enough to walk to, which ones to do as a group, and what areas of the city were neglected completely (around Tour Eiffel, for instance). One of the areas we had spent little time in was Le Marais, and there were quite a few stickers there. But that will have to wait.

Sunday is our day for French sculpture. Rich and Lu have other plans.It is a surprisingly short walk from Rue Soufflot to the Musee d'Orsay, and it was a perfect day for it, clear and warm.

Walking along the Seine on a Sunday morning ranks high on our list of great adventures. Both the river and streets were devoid of traffic and we could hear each footfall. When planning this trip we came up with a short list of 7 "must sees" and 3 were in the d'Orsay; Renoir's ball at the "Cookie Windmill", Degas' forlorn little absinthe drinker, and Whistler's mom rocking the time away. I also hoped to revisit a sculpture (the name of which I did not know but have since learned is the Jeune fille de Mégare, by Ernest Barrias) of a young woman spinning yarn that I had seen many years ago. It was this work that I mark as the beginning of my appreciation for sculpture. I was taken by the unblemished marble used and the soft, matte finish of the work, perfect for the subject.

We usually follow Rick Steves' guidance of always seeing what you came to see first but in this case our growling stomachs convinced us we should bend the rule. The visit to the Café des Hauteurs on the top floor (situated just behind the huge clock where the view provided by the attached terrace is phenomenal) provided the nourishment we needed before we set off on our treasure hunt. The place was packed, with overworked waitresses, overpriced food and under patience-d patrons. If only we had discovered the little self service cafe just one floor up on the mezzanine before rather than after we ate.

The "Bal au Moulin de la Galette" is bigger and darker than I had imagined, but so lively you can almost feel the vibrations emanating from it. Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1" (also called Portrait of the Artist's Mother), on the other hand gave off no vibrations for me (he should have checked to see if Mom had a heartbeat), and I wondered what all the fuss was about. Now at least, we've seen it. As for our little Absinthe drinker, after an hour of searching around (I admit to hate asking for directions) the nice lady at the information desk told me that it was "not available." Well, now we have a reason to return, and that's not a bad thing.

(Note: I'm pleasantly surprised that they now allow pictures to be taken in the museum. I've included a picture of "In a Cafe" from Wikipedia just because I like it so much.)

On our search for the Degas, we stumbled across a painting by Jean Delville called "L'Ecole de Platon" or the School of Plato, where Plato is lecturing to his students.
Three things captured our attention: it is huge, taking up most of one wall of a salon, it is vivid, bright and colorful (a refreshing change after Whistler), and the students appear to be androgynous. Like it or hate it, it is surely an attention grabber that would brighten up any den.

Finally to the sculpture.

We stumbled across the young girl spinning her thread almost up against a wall in the main hall. It did not disappoint, though I wished it was out in the open to encourage 360 degree viewing. The care given by the sculptor to the folds of the material and the way the upper arm balances the weight at the bottom are remarkable to me. Definitely worth the trip.

Just a short distance from the d'Orsay is the Rodin Museum, and even if one is not a fan of sculpture, the works are amazing. There is an entire room dedicated to his lover and muse: Camille Claudel (a great artist in her own right). I always think of Rodin's work in bronze, but some of the marble pieces are dramatic and pretty erotic. Being close to "The Kiss" gives one the sense of being a voyeur. The last four of our "must sees" were all found in the beautiful gardens outside the museum. The Thinker, Burghers of Calais, Balzac, and the Gates of Hell are very powerful and the setting is idyllic. It put us in just the right mood to stroll lazily back to our apartment.

Doing laundry has now become part of our daily (versus nightly) routine. Between the four of us we do a small load (that seems to work better) whenever we leave the apartment. After trading stories with Rich and Lu, we headed off once again for the Rue Mouffetard area (as it turns out, Rodin's neighborhood as a youth).

We met a couple of retired coo-ka-loos from Berkley California. He had worked on our current president's election campaign, and told me that he and his like-minded buddies were very disappointed that the president in office was not as liberal as he had promised to be during the campaign. I had to think about that (but only for a moment) and decided I couldn't get away from this guy fast enough.

Dinner was bought from one of the sidewalk fronted shops and eaten while we walked. I had another spinach and cheese crepe while Rich had a falafel sandwich that looked very good but kept dripping something down the front of Rich's pants. I knew that was not a good sign and envisioned a night of beeping washer/dryer activity. I think Kat came to the rescue with a wash and dry wipe that she keeps in her backpack (along with all the other things I normally cart around in my pockets). She is a doll.

Having met all our expectations we were happy and still had a full day ahead of us. We decided that we would head to the swamp tomorrow, and called it a day.

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