Ashley in Paris

Ashley, a member of the University Honors Program and a senior majoring in art history, was awarded a Richter International Fellowship to conduct independent, graduate-level research this summer in Paris, where she plans to examine primary documents and pieces of chinoiserie at the major libraries and museums. Chinoiserie was an 18th-century movement in Europe characterized by the production of goods that portrayed China as an idyllic utopia, with plump pagodes, mystic sages and enlightened philosophers.

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Arrivals and departures

This past week has been one of the most hectic since I have been in Paris. All of the coming and going has gotten me completely worn out. Despite my inclination toward lethargy, I have crammed as much as possible into the last few days. However, I am ready to decrease the pace and enjoy Paris during my last few days.

First, let’s recap this last week. As the title of this entry indicates, this was a week of arrivals and departures. Tuesday afternoon I arrived back in Paris from Besancon, Thursday morning Lety arrived in Paris, and Friday Christy left for Italy. Needless to say, all of the coordination involved in travel kept me busy (even if I wasn’t the one traveling).

Reflections after Besancon
My trip to Besancon allowed for some of the most relaxing and rejuvenating days of my trip thus far (and I would soon find out how necessary those were). Researching at the Musee des Beaux Arts, meeting the extremely accommodating and hospitable Madame Courtet, and having the opportunity to see Le Petit Nimrod had given me a new outlook on both my research and my time in France.

I was headed back to Paris hoping that these positive feelings would be enough to overcome the Parisian chill. Luckily, I only had a few minutes to ponder that idea. Within 30 minutes of arriving back at the apartment, Christy and I were out on the streets of Paris, and she wanted to hear all about my trip.

Richter%2B531.jpgRevisiting the City
Paris is one of the largest cities in the world, and there are endless labyrinths of streets and hidden squares that seem to appear in even the most familiar of places. So, Christy and I took the opportunity of a day off to explore our usual haunts. Little did we know that we would discover Paris anew.

Le Marais is one of my favorite districts in Paris. It seems to offer everything: fabulous shopping, quaint cafes, historic monuments, masterpiece museums, and tons of cultural diversity. In addition, it is one of those parts of Paris that no matter how much time you spend there, every trip you are bound to find something new. Our trip that particular day stayed true to form.

We decided to go to the Marais in search of the unique and eclectic boutiques the area touts. Feeling restless and unable to find any store to satisfy our specific tastes, we headed toward the Pompidou center. I had seen the untraditional facade of the Pompidou center once before last summer in the middle of rushing somewhere else. I told Christy that, as an architecture enthusiast, she had to see one of Paris’ most infamous and innovative structures. However, my revisiting of the site completely changed my perspective as well.

Richter%2B565%2B%282%29.jpgThe Pompidou center is tucked right in between the 4th arrondisement (le Marais) and the 1st (Les Halles/Louvre). These are two arrondisements that I am extremely familiar with. However, I had never explored the Pompidou center or the surrounding area of Boulevard de Sebastopol. This area is extremely lively and abounds in cheap restaurants. Also nearby is the beautiful architecture of St. Merry, Place George Pompidou, and a location of my favorite Paris gelato shop, Amorino. Tourists make up a large percentage of the traffic in the area due to the international renown earned by the Pompidou center as one of the best modern art museums in the world – however, many native French can be found enjoying the splendor from outside one of the many cafes that surround this area. It was wonderful to find something new in the midst of a city with which I feel I have become so familiar.

Richter%2B594.jpgThat night I decided to take Christy to the lesser-known Butte aux Cailles area. This is close to the FIAP (the international residence that houses the SMU-in-Paris students during the summers), and I felt that Christy would enjoy the charm of its narrow streets that run up and down the entire area. Once again, this is an area that I am fairly familiar with because of my five-week stay in Paris last summer. However, I had forgotten quite how charming the hilly and winding streets were and how many little establishments pervaded the area. We took several pictures of the picturesque and rather eclectic neighborhood structures and explored several of the smaller streets. It was a great way to spend an evening in a neighborhood that I had once thought I knew so well. Paris is full of surprises.

The next night we decided to return to the first. This area becomes completely illuminated after nightfall, and I think that it is one of the most beautiful places to view Paris after dark. We decided to explore the Tuileries gardens and the Champs-Elysees. We were definitely in for a treat. Soon after nightfall, the entire gardens and Place de la Concorde lit up. This provides a magnificent setting against the backdrop of the sparkling Eiffel Tower and Paris’ clear summer skies. We were at the edge of the gardens the moment that the lights simultaneously turned on. It was a truly perfect moment, something right out of a Hollywood film.

The INHA
After returning from Besancon, I still had a lot of work to do on my research. This involved going to another Paris library: the Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art (INHA). The INHA is currently located at the site of the old Bibliotheque Nationale Francaise (BNF), which changed sites several years ago, in the second arrondisement. The reading room of the INHA is absolutely beautiful. It is a large circular space, which is open about five stories high, with a large dome at the top. The main floor is filled with long desks, where the readers sit and examine their materials. The other floors, which form the perimeter of this main room, are filled with built-in wooden bookshelves. So as you wait at your assigned desk, you can watch while the librarians go up the ladders to retrieve your books.

I was really excited about this particular library since it is completely devoted to the subject of art history. The system here works a little differently than either the BNF or the Bibliotheque des arts decoratifs. At the INHA you are assigned a particular seat at one of the long tables. Then you fill out request forms to get your books. You can only request three at a time and only six in one day. While you wait (usually for about 30 minutes), they retrieve your books and deliver them to your seat.

It is a fairly simple process, but I have to admit that I didn’t care for waiting that long or not being able to see more than six books in one day. After spending so much time at the BNF and the Bibliotheque des arts decoratifs, where you obtain your books almost immediately upon your arrival, I was spoiled by their efficiency. However the time was well spent either enjoying the architecture of the building or going over one of the many photocopied articles I had brought back from Besancon.

Richter%2B635.jpgThree Girlfriends in Paris
Thursday morning Lety arrived in Paris, and we were so excited to all three be in Paris together. Despite her jetlag, Lety was a trooper and let us drag her around the city for lots of sightseeing.

First I met her at my apartment in the 6th and let her get settled into the space for about five minutes. Then we dashed over to one of my favorite sandwich shops/patisseries in the area, Le Petit Lux, for some lunch. We got our sandwiches a emporter (to-go) and walked to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens to enjoy both them and the many marvels of the gardens.

Next, it was off to meet Christy for a trip to the Musee d’Orsay. I had been to the Musee d’Orsay last summer, but per usual, I hadn’t gotten to spend as much time as I would have liked there. Considering that the three of us love the impressionist period, we decided that it would be an ideal place to visit together. One of my favorite things about the Musee d’Orsay is the actual architecture of the building. It was modeled after a train station by the architect for the 1900 World Fair in Paris. The ceiling of the museum is made of opaque glass panels, which allows much of the displayed art to be illuminated solely by the soft, natural lighting that enters through these panels.

Several of my favorite pieces in this collection include works by Manet, Caillebotte, and Renoir. After learning, reading, and researching about these iconic pieces for so many years it is especially rewarding to have the opportunity to view them in person.

After pulling ourselves away from the magnificent artworks, we headed to the Les Halles area for dinner. Christy and I decided to take Lety to Num for dinner. It is one of my favorite places in Paris because of the location, its unique ambiance, and the fact that it serves Thai food. I had the green curry with coconut milk and chicken. Yum. For dessert, once again, I had the sticky rice with sliced mango. Fabulous!

After dinner, we decided to be cliche and go to the Eiffel Tower. As I have said in previous posts the Eiffel Tower is personally one of my favorite places in Paris. That probably sounds bizarre considering that I have spent so much time in this city, but there is something magical about the Eiffel Tower for me. It represents the iconic and idealized Paris of my childhood, and even when I visit it now, the images of Paris as a place of unparalleled mystery and intrigue re-emerge. It was wonderful to share this experience with two of my best friends.

Richter%2B651.jpgIle St. Louis
Friday morning, Christy left Paris for Italy, where she will be spending six weeks at an archeological site with SMU-in-Italy. Lety and I were sad to see her go, but after our day together, I was in desperate need to throw myself back into the research mode. I spent all day Friday and Saturday at the INHA looking through books regarding religious iconography during the vogue of chinoiserie. After five, I emerged from the dim library into the light of day to meet Lety for dinner and exploration.

We ate in the St. Michel area at one of my favorite little restos of the area. It serves traditional French cuisine that is both of remarkable quality and price. I had mussels in a creme sauce, grilled salmon, and a rich chocolate mousse.

After our hefty dinner, we decided that a walk was in order. We decided to explore the Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite. These are two places where I have spent very little time aside from looking at the facade of Notre Dame. Lety loves churches, and I hadn’t had the time to explore much, so we decided to go and take some pictures of Notre Dame and the surrounding area. I had forgotten how majestic Notre Dame is, especially in the soft evening light. It was absolutely amazing. We also found many lesser-known treasures hidden on these two small land masses, including a group of street musicians playing flutes, the cathedral of St. Louis, and the Cafe Quasimodo.

Saturday was also Fete de la Musique. Fete de la Musique is an annual event in Paris where local and non-local bands and music groups gather to serenade the streets of Paris. Everywhere you go, on almost every corner, is another group waiting to entertain you. Large crowds gather, and the streets are in complete mayhem. This is definitely not a time to walk around the city, if you are actually trying to get somewhere. We were a little overwhelmed by all of the crowds and decided to head home after a dessert of gelato and crepes. Besides we would have to get up early in the morning for the gare. Once again, I was leaving Paris for a trip into the countryside. See more on that in the next post…

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