Researching at the Paris national libraries is physically and mentally exhausting, but Christy and I are comitted to seeing as much of Paris as possible once the libraries close, even if our eyes are blurry from the constant pouring over of books and our brains are spinning with phrases like “le gout chinois”, “porcelain in the famille rose style”, and “Voltaire’s contribution to 18th century public opinion”. Ok, so my research is pretty fun and interesting! Anyway, here are a few of the things we have experienced (I am playing catch-up; so, these are all from last week).
Paris by Night
Paris is not called the City of Lights for nothing. It is truly breathtaking after dark, especially in the 1st arrondisement. This neighborhood is home to the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, and part of the famous Avenue des Champs-Elysees. All of them light up at night, creating something that is truly spectacular.
After dinner last Wednesday, we headed to the Louvre. I had seen it lit up last summer, and it was truly one of my favorite memories of Paris. So, I definitely wanted to take Christy. Considering that we are both art historians, it is a particularly special treat to see the contrast of Renaissance architecture (The Louvre was originally constructed in the Middle Ages; however, it underwent renovations in the late 16th and early 17th centuries) and I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid (constructed in the 1980s).
This juxtaposition creates intense visual interest and symbolizes the meeting of L’Occident and L’Orient (West and East) and the culmination of cultures that can only be represented through such a grandoise collection as the Louvre’s. How fitting for my topic of chinoiserie: the meeting of the East and West and how this interaction affected the art of the period.
While we were taking pictures we ran into a young couple from Brazil (it is a miracle that I could figure that out). The guy was trying to ask us something, using sign langage and miming. We were clueless. Neither of us speak Portuguese and virtually no Spanish. Meanwhile, his girlfriend was dying laughing at what was admittedly an extremly amusing scene of him being really theatrical and us looking on dumbfounded.
Amazingly, after several painful minutes and much gesturing, we understood what they were asking. Turns out, they wanted to see the inverted pyramid. Not from the inside of the Louvre, but from the outside where Tom Hanks walks in The Da Vinci Code. I remembered from last summer that Dr. Freidel had said that you can’t actually see that inverted pyramid from the outside, as it is surrounded by tall hedges. I somehow got the message across that the movie scene was “fiction”. And so, after much laughing and pitiful sign language, our exchange was successful. A great feat. I was proud.
Orientalism is Alive in Paris
One of the things I have been most enjoying about Paris this time around is that orientalism is everywhere! I remembered from last summer that there were a lot of modern-day shops that specialized in Eastern objects, street fairs touting authentic antiques from l’Orient, and a general fasination with the exotic.
Well this observation has translated into the form of a new favorite restaurant. Le Fumoir has a mostly French clientel, modern French-fusion cuisine, and very French servers. However, spanning one wall of the restaurant is an extremely antiquarian, Eastern painting. I love it! It is so captivating that it has made me a loyal client.
The painting depicts two women and a rhinoceros. One of the women wears a floor-length white gown, which conforms to her slender silhouette. The other wears a crimson gown in a similar style as the first. The woman in the white gown reclines on a sofa, lackadaisically smoking a cigarette, while the second figure lies with her face hidden on another sofa. Both women appear of Eastern descent, with strikingly dark features and extremely elongated limbs. Just a gem of a painting. I am still working to figure out the artist and date. A good side research project for me?
A Taste of Thailand
Anyone who knows me, or has gone out to dinner with me, knows that I am a huge fan of Asian cuisine. I love it all: Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, fusion, etc. A favorite that Christy and I share is curry! We found a great little Thai place one day while strolling in the Marais (there are always hidden gems in the Marais). It is called Mai Thai, and the decor and cuisine are fabulous! I highly recommend it if you like Asian cuisine. Paris, being the internationally acclaimed city that it is, touts a long list of spectacular restaurants specializing in Eastern gastronomy. I had the green curry with chicken and perfumed rice. So delicious, with the perfect amount of spice. For dessert … fresh mango with sticky rice. Yummy! Yet another wonderful experience in Paris for foodies such as ourselves.
Le Musee Rodin
Saturday Christy and I decided to work half days and took the afternoon off to visit the Rodin Museum in the 7th. I had been here last summer for class, but I really wanted to return because they are currently having an exhibition on the life and work of Camille Claudel. She is best known for her relationship with Rodin, as his student and lover, but she was an extremely talented artist in her own right. One of my favorite things about the exhibition were the personal letters and mementos between her and Rodin. The museum truly did a superb job accumulating all of these pieces from so many diverse collections around the world.
My favorite part of the Rodin musuem is the surrounding gardens. These gardens are full of many of Rodin’s most famous pieces and are a work of great beauty in and of themselves. The pieces that appear here include such iconic works as The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, and The Bergers of Calais.
The gardens also have a small cafe and one of my weaknesses: ice cream. So, Christy and I strolled through the gardens with our ice cream cones enjoying the beautiful mix of Rodin’s scupture, the organic forms of the gardens, and the Renaissance architecture of the distant skyline. So picturesque … so Paris.
After the Rodin museum we decided to explore the exterior of L’Hotel des Invalides. This gigantic structure pervades the entire surrounding area. Its guilded dome can be seen clearly over the rooftops of the Paris shops and apartments at great distances. It is truly imposing and overwhelming and spectacular to see. Today, the structure is home to museums and monuments relating to French military history. However, it was originally built under the reign of Louis XIV to house and assist veterans.
This was one of the few things I had not done before. It was wonderful to experience something new in a city where I know there is so much more left to be explored. Also, the surrounding area of the 7th is fairly unknown to me even though it is situated between my neighborhood (the 6th) and the Eiffel Tower. Just another thing for the to-do list.
After a wonderful week of research and exploring Paris, I was off to Besancon on the Eastern border of France and Switzerland. Here, I needed to look at Boucher’s famous La Tenture Chinoise and consult original documents in possession of the Musee des Beaux-arts et Archeologie. Be looking for my next post to hear of my many adventures outside of Paris.