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.

Saying “Au Revoir” to Paris

Richter1.jpgParc des Buttes Chaumont
Monday afternoon, with my research concluded for the day, I decided to go spend the remainder of my day at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Considering my quasi-Parisienne status, I am embarrassed to say that I found out about this park through my Paris guide book. Yes, even as a researcher I took my handy-dandy guide book with me this trip. Looking through the pages of what the guide book had deamed “the lesser-known treasures located off the beaten path”, I came across pictures of this beautiful park with a 100ft waterfall hidden inside a secluded grotto, a clifftop folly with breathtaking views, and a 200ft long suspension bridge allowing for passage over the park’s massive lake. It looked too good to pass up!

The park is located in the 19th arrondisement, in the North East corner of Paris. It is an area that I am not at all familiar with, but I had no apprehensions exploring the park. Parks tend to be fairly safe during the daytime due to their popularity with tourists and locals alike. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont was not different. It was probably one of the most populated parks I have seen in Paris; however, it is also one of the larger parks in the city. I must admit, after exploring this park for several hours and discovering so many delights, it has replaced the Luxembourg Gardens as my favorite public space in the city. No competition. I am so glad that during this trip to Paris I had the luxury of experiencing some of the city’s “best kept secrets”.

My adventure began when I stepped off the metro at the stop Buttes Chaumont. From there, the park entrance is just a few steps away. I entered the park and decided to randomly pick from one of the many forked paths, hoping to eventually find the waterfall, suspension bridge, or folly. One of the most distiguishing characteristics of this particular park are its steep hills (hence the name butte, which means hill in French), the tops of which provide great views and on the sides of which people lay out to tan, read, or just relax.

After climbing up and down several of the hills, I found a secluded plateau with a shady pavilion in the center. Under this pavilion, a boxing instructor was teaching two young women about my age to box. I sat on a nearby bench and watched them practicing for about 15 minutes. That is one of the great things about sports, they carry a universal understanding. Although I didn’t understand all of his instructions in French, combined with demonstrations and body language, I was able to follow most of the instructor’s commands.

Next, I decided to continue my search for the folly. After making several unguided twists and turns, I somehow arrived at the top of a HUGE hill and could see the cliff where the folly sets off in the distance. I headed in that direction, crossing a bridge over the lake and came upon the base of the cliff. From there, it was a short climb to the folly, which is a replica of the Temple of Sibylle near Rome (so my guidebook says; see photo). In the center of the folly, you can see spectacular views of the city, which include the Sacre-Coeur and most of Montmartre.

Leaving the cliff and heading into the valley, I discovered the grotto and waterfall tucked away in a corner of the quiet cliffside (see photo). Entering the dark and damp grotto from the intense daylight only made the place more magical. The sound of the waterfall seemed unreal in the middle of this international city, but when in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, you don’t feel like you’re in a city. I hopped across the stepping stones to the other side of the cavern and headed back into the brightness of the day.

I felt like I had experienced more adventure in this Parisian park than I had in a long time. Who knew that Paris could offer the kind of outdoor adventure that includes hidden grottos, Roman ruins, 100ft waterfalls, and the seclusion of a hilltop?

Later that evening Lety and I met up at the apartment and headed to the 1st to take in the beautiful views of the Louvre, Jardin Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, and the Champs-Elysee at night. But first, dinner in the 6th. I had heard of a nearby cafe called Le Nemrod, which was reported to have the best Croques in Paris. Being the conoisseur of Croque Madames that I am, I wanted to see for myself. So, off we went. The Croque Madame was excellent, but I wouldn’t say the best in Paris. However, the real find of the night was the dessert Fondant au Chocolat (a thick chocolate cake with a warm molten center) with a scoop of Berthillon vanilla ice cream. Heavenly! So much so that we would return the next night just for the dessert!

Richter3.jpgParc Monsouris and the Cite Universitaire
By now you may be thinking that I am a little bit of a park addict. Well, Wednesday was my first official day off, and I headed to the 14th to visit the Parc Monsouris. It was relatively early, and I decided to walk around Buttes aux Cailles for a bit first in the hopes of finding a creperie that might serve me. No such luck, the French are fairly adamant about not serving until midi (noon). Crepeless, I headed to the park.

One of the reasons that I wanted to visit this particular park was because I had lived near it all last summer during my time in Paris, yet I had never had the chance to go. Having seen it now, I regret that I wasn’t able to take advantage of it last summer. It is situated in the university district, and you definitely get the feel of being in a college town. Although many of the people are families, students will cut through the park on their way to the university.

I hadn’t realized previously how close the univeristy was to the park, but it is right across the street. I saw what looked like American condos. I thought to myself, “This cannot be, there isn’t enough room in Paris for those kind of accomadations.” So, I decided to explore, and sure enough I found myself on the campus of the Cite Internationale Universitaire de Paris (International University of Paris; see photo).

What is so interesting about this university as a foreigner is that it is an international school. Therefore, students come here from all over the world. There were signs directing visitors to the individual buildings dedicated to all of the countries represented at the university (Sweden, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland, the United States, etc.). One thing that I love about university campuses is their universal feel. I felt like I could have been on any university campus in the United States. I felt like I truly belonged. There is a bond between young intellectuals that crosses all cultural boundaries, and it was truly a gift to experience this after all of my trials in Paris.

Richter4.jpgLa Madeleine and the Musee d’Orangerie
After my morning in the park, I met Lety at La Madeleine that afternoon. If I am a park junkie, Lety is definitely the same way with cathedrals. However, we both really wanted to see this particular cathedral – one of the most famous in Paris. My favorite thing about La Madeleine was the beautiful mosaic in the apse. It was very difficult to get any quality pictures without a flash, but just being able to experience it in person was memory enough.

Next, we headed to the nearby Musee d’Orangerie at the base of the Tuileries Gardens. The main floor of this museum is dedicated to Monet’s colossial waterlily paintings. The rooms are circular, and skylights provide enough natural light to illuminate the paintings without threatening their condition. Since these are some of the most famous paintings in the world, like so many other things in Paris, it was surreal seeing them in person. There are benches in the center of the rooms, and we set there for awhile just taking in the majesty of these iconic symbols of the impressionist movement.

Afterwards, I really wanted to go to a Chinese art emporium that I had heard about in the 8th arrondisement. The architecture of the emporium is modeled after a Chinese pagoda, and definitely stands out among all of the distinctly 18th-century French apartments that surround it. The inside was spectacular. They were currently having an exposition of modern Chinese screen paintings on display. The delicate art work complemented by the spectacular architecture of the space provided a truly memorable scene.

Thursday morning we woke up early and decided to take a day trip to Montmartre. Lety had never been before, and there were several things that I wanted to see and hadn’t had a chance to last time I was there.

We started out at the Montmartre Cemetery. This place is enormous! We walked around for awhile just enjoying all of the beautiful details contained within many of the tombs and standing in awe in front of some of the more extravagant additions to the cemetery’s landscape. Two resting places that I really wanted to see were those of Alexandre Dumas (author of the Count of Monte Cristo) and Edgar Degas (an impressionist painter famous for his depictions of ballerinas).

After finding our quests, we headed towards the Sacre-Coeur (sacred heart). I had climbed up to it before, but had never been inside. As we entered this sacred cathedral, I saw the most beautiful guilded mosaic of my life. It pictured Jesus enthroned in the center of the image; flanking him were people of all races and ethnicities. The craftsmanship was exquisitely executed, and the message was just as beautiful. The space is gigantic, as one would imagine from pictures and the fact that you are able to see the cathedral from almost any elevated point in the city. Completely worth the hike up about a thousand steps!

Next we went to the Place du Tertre, which has a daily artists’ market, and grabbed gelato at one of my favorite places. We strolled among the many vendors, appreciating the uniqueness of each. Then we began the long trek down the hill with our gelato, breifly coming upon Au Lapin Agile (one of the first cabarets in Paris). Afterwards it was back to the apartment to nurse our aching feet after the day of intense hiking up and down the hills of Montmartre.

Jardin des Plantes and the Mosquee de Paris
My last official day in Paris I decided to visit one of the few gardens in the city I had not yet had the time to experience: The Jardin des Plantes. This gardens is full of things to do including a menagerie (I got to see a group of wallabys), botanical gardens, a natural history museum, a green house, etc. I strolled the botanical gardens and then decided to head somewhere that intrigued me more than all of the other nearby sites: the Mosquee de Paris.

After taking an Islamic art class with Dr. Carr last year, I became more intrigued with Near Eastern culture and religion. I knew that the mosque was open to the public, and I really wanted to tour it if possible. I had never been inside a mosque before and thought “what better place to start than Paris?” I had forgotten a key fact, it was Friday. Friday prayer. I walked around the large complex surrounding the mosque looking for a main entrance into the inner courtyard. Finally, I came upon the said entrance and what I saw was magical.

The doors had been propped open, and I could fully see the interior of the courtyard. It was magnificent with pure aqua blue fountains, lush greenery, colorful blossoms, and clean architechture. Something right out of one of my books. I read the sign that said no tours on Fridays but decided to try anyway. It never hurts to ask right? This was probably extremely rude and taboo of me being a Western woman to enter the complex during Friday prayer. However, in my defense, I still had forgotten about Friday prayer, and my adventurous spirit had taken over.

At first the men standing around (all in western dress) did not acknowledge my presence. Awkward. They were not speaking French; I can only assume they were speaking Arabic. However, I finally approached the one who looked like a guard on duty and asked politely in French if the mosque was indeed closed to tourists on Fridays. He chuckled and shook his head in a manner that I took to mean I was right in my assumption. Having lost all my courage, I nodded and fled the scene as two men entered in full garb. I felt mortified and confused? Oh well, maybe next time on a day that isn’t Friday.

France and China
One more thing that I had to do before I left Paris was see the temporary exhibition of the terracotta army (Les Soldats de l’Eternite) at the Pinacotheque. These just over life-size figures are famous throughout the world after their discovery in the 1970s. It is estimated that there are over 7,000 figures that make up the army’s totality. The Pinacotheque had maybe ten of the actual figures and many other pieces important in the Chinese funerary tradition. It was spectacular to see these objects up close, and something that would only have been possible in Paris.

The connection between France and China lives on today, although it is evolving on almost a daily basis. Exoticism and orientalism are still strong forces in France today, however, so are the fields of sinology and ethnography.

After four weeks in Paris and a vast array of experiences, trials, and adventures, my trip came to a close. Saturday morning I headed to the airport for the 10-hour flight back to the States. However, the adventure doesn’t end here. I still have many long hours of research and writing ahead of me to prepare a paper for the Richter board and possible publication.

Paris was the first step on the path of a long journey as an art historian. It was a whirlwind full of ups and downs, and hopefully after the jetlag wears off, I will be able to reflect back on all of my time and examine the personal and professional lessons of the entire experience. Until then, thank you so much for coming on this journey with me …

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Concluding the Paris portion of my research

After returning from Chantilly on Sunday, I spent Monday and Tuesday fervently working to wrap up all of my research in Paris.

Richter4.jpgMonday morning I headed to the Bibliotheque des arts decoratifs to photograph several books containing images that are completely indispensable to my research (see photo of one of the many images that I was able to photograph). I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to reproduce these images. Due to the delicate nature of many of the books I examined, few could be subjected to photocopying. However, the Bibliotheque des arts decoratifs is kind enough to allow patrons to photograph these books on Monday mornings. So, I filled out the necessary paperwork and was able to obtain all of the images vital to my research. I love it when things work out.

Richter5.jpgI spent all day Tuesday at the BNF (see photo of the East entrance of the library). I needed to see a few things on microfilm and also consult several books only available in the rare books room. I had been saving these things for the end of my research, preferring to look at all of the easily available books right away. I had never used microfilm before and was a little nervous about figuring the whole system out. However, I consider myself fairly technologically savvy (if you consider a 20-year-old microfilm machine all that technological) and was sure that I could figure it out.

Luckily, I did, but only after 10 minutes of frustration. I turned the machine on, lifted the glass plate, inserted the film, etc, etc. But still the film would not feed by itself. Of course when I tried to do it manually that was not only time consuming but caused me to get fingerprints all over the film. Finally, I realized that you have to hook the film inside a hollow space in the roller so that it will be taut as the rest of the film progresses from one roll to the other. Voila!

After that fiasco, I headed to the rare book room (Salle Y) to hopefully gain access to several 18th-century works. I was able to see one of them, but when the librarian placed it on a velvety fabric and told me that I could crack the book open only an inch “maximum,” I was discouraged. It is nearly impossible to read small, 18th-century type in dim lighting with only an inch of space to peer into. I understand that the binding is fragile, but come on! I tried my best, but found very little. Knowing that the same fate lay ahead for the remaining books I wanted to examine, I decided to call it quits. I am hoping to gain access to facsimiles or newer editions elsewhere.

With that, my research at the Paris libraries was concluded. However, I still had a few days to enjoy the city, and I was thrilled!

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Exploring the Town of Whipped Cream?

The Sunday after Christy left I decided to make a trip to Chantilly, and Lety was nice enough to accompany me.

Before leaving the States, I had found a lot of literature regarding the Chateau Chantilly and its famous singeries. Singeries can be described as the decorative depiction of monkeys or singes in human dress, carrying out human activities. Singeries flourished in the late 18th century following the peak chinoiserie.

Perhaps the most famous artist associated with singeries was Jean Pillement, whose oeuvre contained many chinoiseries as well. Some of Jean Pillement’s most well-known singeries cover the paneled walls of one of the small chambers in the Chateau Chantilly.

Learning about singeries and their many connections with the imagery present in chinoiserie, I decided that a trip to Chantilly could further illuminate the forces behind 18th-century depictions of China. Besides who wouldn’t want to visit a town named whipped cream (that is the English translation of chantilly)?!?

Richter1.jpgSunday morning we got up early and were at the train station Gare du Nord (different than the gare I took to go to Besancon) by 9:30am. We bought our tickets (only 14 euro round trip) for the next departure to Chantilly at 11am.

Considering that we had some time to kill, we decided to grab coffee from one of the nearby cafes. I was thrilled to find out that this cafe served my favorite coffee in Paris: Florio by Cafe Richard. Many, but not all, cafes in Paris serve this brand, and it is divine! So, I ordered my usual cafe viennois and watched the morning pass.

If you haven’t heard, cafes are an institution in Paris. My line above about “grabbing a coffee” was probably very misleading. No one “grabs” a coffee in France. Instead you “take” a coffee. This means that if you go to a cafe and order a coffee, be prepared to sit for at least an hour. You don’t just drink your coffee and run. Even if you are alone, you sit and enjoy it (usually while reading Le Figaro or Le Monde, two of France’s most popular newspapers).

Next, it was back into the gare for the twenty-five minute train ride to Chantilly. It is funny how close Chantilly is to Paris because when you get there, you feel like you are deep into the French countryside, not in a suburb.

From the train station to the Chateau was supposed to be about a 30-minute walk, at least that is what the official Chateau Chantilly website had said. We considered taking the bus, but alas no bus or bus stop could be found. So, off we went a pied (on foot). We thought to ourselves, “Well, maybe the website says 30 minutes, but that is probably an overestimate for the out-of-shape touristy types. Considering that we are two young women, we can probably do it in 15 or 20.”

No. Thirty minutes meant thirty minutes in the hot sun. France does not compensate. In France, people at our fitness level are very much the norm. However, walking meant that we got to explore. Something that would have been impossible on the bus or in a taxi.

Richter2.jpgThe first five minutes into our walk, we had already taken a detour. We saw the city cemetery and decided to have a look. Both Lety and I have a strange affinity for cemeteries, and needless to say were a little “camera happy.” I absolutely loved this particular cemetery. It was completely deserted and unbelievably peaceful. The outside walls of the cemetery are surrounded by a densely wooded area, which is only broken to allow for a small pedestrian path that runs along side the main road (two fairly empty, narrow lanes). The cemetery itself gets a lot of light, and we could tell by all of the fresh flowers, many visitors as well. I enjoyed the silent beauty of many of the tombstones and family plots. This was a wonderful way to introduce us to this quaint and utterly charming town.

Continuing our walk, we passed the Living Horse Museum, which is home to a formidable number of purebreds. At first we mistook this HUGE structure, with its undeniably spectacular architecture, to be the Chateau itself. However, we soon discovered that the Chateau lay still further ahead. Another 10 minutes brought us to the completion of that 30-minute walk, and we had officially arrived at the Chateau.

Richter3.jpgChateau Chantilly is fairly small in comparison to the famous chateaux of the Loire Valley. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up in charm. First we toured the galleries of the first floor, then the chapel, and finally the library.

I was extremely excited because the Musee de Conde, housed in Chateau Chantilly, owns Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Barry (the famous 15th-century Book of Hours by the Limbourg Brothers). Unfortunately, due to conservation reasons, the book currently on display at the museum is a facsimile (a high-quality copy). However, the museum has graciously digitized much of this precious book, and museum visitors can examine it page by page using interactive computer software in the library.

After exploring on our own, we took a guided tour of the remainder of the rooms. Here, we learned some of the history surrounding the Chateau and also information regarding the artistic style in which it was executed. On this tour was the room containing Pillement’s singeries. I lingered a little and took pictures for my research. The iconography present in these images is definitely extremely interesting and hopefully will be useful to me as I continue in this project.

Finished looking around the Chateau, we decided to explore the extensive gardens. They have English gardens, franco-chinois gardens, a labyrinth, and much more. I really wanted to see the franco-chinois gardens. Much of the outside area was under construction and little seemed to have been done as far as upkeep. However, we did find one lovely spot with a large rock gathering and small stream.

We ended the day by grabbing some ice cream for the trek back to the gare. It had been a fun, but exhausting day, and we were ready for the solace of the apartment in Paris.

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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.

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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Besancon: Discovering a France Outside of Paris

When I was researching back in the States several months ago, I discovered that eight works from Francois Boucher’s extremely influential La Tenture Chinoise were at a museum in Besancon, France (near the border of Switzerland and France and about a 2.5-hour train ride from Paris). Since these were the works that initiated my interest in chinoiserie, and ultimately shaped my research topic, I knew that I had to travel to see them if possible. Also, what a great excuse to visit other parts of France?! I spent five weeks in Paris last summer, only leaving for a weekend in the Loire Valley. While I love Paris, I was jumping at the chance to experience the countryside. I wasn’t disappointed …

“Ou se trouve la gare”
Like I said above, I knew that I would have to take a train from Paris to Besancon. So, being the planner that I am, I scheduled the trip for a particular weekend during my stay and booked the train tickets and hotel online before leaving the States. Probably a little cautious (although I didn’t think so at the time) and unnecessary because you can buy your tickets at the station up until minutes before the train departs (sometimes this is a good way to get good deals). However, my “worrier side” was pacified.

So, I got up excruciatingly early (5:30am) the morning of my trip. This would allow me to get on the metro by 7am and be at the station an hour early. This accounted for any potential problems that I might run into along the way (i.e. metro running late, metro car breaking down, not being able to find my platform, something wrong with my tickets, etc.). I had thought of almost all possible situations. One thing I had no apprehensions about though – finding the train station (la gare in French). I knew that my train departed out of Gare de Lyon. I had been by it tons of times (it is on the way to the BNF), and in Paris, popular destinations (like museums, libraries, monuments) are always extremely well marked. Even the metro stop to get there was fittingly titled Gare de Lyon. No problem, right? Well, if anyone is going to run into an issue, it would be me. Since I had planned for everything else to go wrong, I was probably asking for it.

So, I arrive at the metro stop Gare de Lyon and get off looking for the exit pointing in the direction of the gare. There isn’t one. I think, “That’s fine, I’ll guess”. Of course I don’t follow the other people with luggage because I am a self-proclaimed pro at finding anything in Paris. Instead, I guess. Guessing allows me to keep my pride. Guessing also wastes 20 minutes of my hour “cushion-time”, which are filled instead with walking up and down a deserted street carrying two extremely heavy bags (around then, I greatly regretted the books, binders and other paperwork I had felt were “necessary” and packed the night before).

Finally, defeated, I decided to pull out the map (something I despise doing in public). There was the gare right next to the metro stop, right where I had just come from. But why couldn’t I see it?! So, I returned to the site of the “invisible” gare, debating all the while if I should ask someone. I had already walked past the same spots several times and was becoming a source of entertainment for some of the local construction workers.

Suddenly, I see a deserted set of stairs. What are the chances? No signs, no nothing. I decide to chance it and pray that I am right so that the workers don’t have to watch me walk up and down this random set of stairs for no apparent reason. Luckily, that doesn’t happen, because upon ascending, I discover that I have indeed found the gare. What’s more, my pride isn’t completely deflated because at least I didn’t have to ask someone “Ou se trouve la gare?” (and they say that men are bad about asking directions).

Two of the Seven Dwarfs
All of the other travel plans go seamlessly from here on out. I have been in Besancon for half an hour and already I am loving it. Two things I have noticed: one, there are many more elderly and children here as opposed to Paris, and two, people greet you with a smile. I think to myself, “What a great and much needed change. These next couple days are going to be great.”

I take a seat in a local Salon du The (tea house) the owner of my hotel had recommended and order the plat du jour (chicken and scalloped potatoes) with a cup of Fleur de Geisha tea. It is Sunday, so most things are closed, and the pace is that only possible – of a lazy Sunday afternoon. The Salon du The doubles as a patisserie, and I am extremely entertained watching all of the locals pop in and out to pick up various baked goodies to take home. This is a popular place.

As I was waiting for my meal, two elderly gentlemen took a table near mine. They were probably in their 70s, and it seemed as if lunching here was part of their weekly ritual. The shopkeepers greeted them with a sense of familiarity and respect reserved for only the most loyal of customers. They were very curious about me – a young woman sitting alone. However, they were either too shy or too prideful to ask any questions. They didn’t feel it was out of the ordinary though to shoot glances in my direction every few minutes. Once they even get up the courage to ask me “Bon appetit?”.

Shortly after our brief exchange, a man behind me, whom I hadn’t noticed before then, asked if I have a cell phone. I cautiously reply that I don’t. Something about his air didn’t seem quite right. Apparently, the two older men agreed because they kept shooting him scathing looks. They were my gallant protectors (oddly, they reminded me of two of the seven dwarfs in their hunched stature and expressive faces). Sure enough, I was right about the strange man. Even the owners seemed ready to be rid of him. He tried to get my attention another time and then settled on muttering to himself. I am sure that the scowls of my new friends helped. I was already feeling like a part of the community in Besancon. This is something that would continue throughout my trip.

Richter1.jpgMusee des Beaux arts de Besancon
After lunch, I headed to the museum to examine Boucher’s works and see the rest of the collections. I found the display of Boucher’s series highly unusal. They are crowded into a room with all other 18th-century pieces. They definitely weren’t being showcased the way I would have liked, but I guess I am a little biased. Also, they were much smaller than I had imagened, and the color saturation was more muted than many of the reproductions I have previously seen. However, it was enlightening to see them in person after reading so much about them. I snapped a few photos and decided to visit the rest of the museum. I could return to them tomorrow when I would meet with one of the museum curators.

Richter2.jpgThe museum houses a diverse collection of works, which are mostly of European origin and dated from the Renaissance onward. My favorite gallery was that which housed the 19th-century impressionist and post-impressionist works. Here I spent some time reading about the pieces and taking photos. I was impressed with the small but exemplary collection from this particular time period (see photo).

Also, the museum had an exhibition going on entitled “La Momie aux Amulettes” (The Mummy and its Amulets). It was interesting to see all of the small treasures that make up the many amulettes, which are placed in the many layers of bindings during the mummification process. I have always been intrigued by Egypt, particularly its funerary art and traditions. It was nice to see this exhibition. It set up my appetite for the King Tut exhibition which will be at the DMA this Fall (I’ve already bought advance tickets, which are available online).

Finding an Old Friend
The next moring I got up and prepared for my meeting with Madame Courtet at the museum. When I arrived, she took me to a room in the back of the upstairs’ galleries and showed me many of Boucher’s drawings owned by the museum. This room is called the Cabinet des Dessins, and it was absolutely beautiful. I felt that the room definitely rivaled the art, with its floor to ceiling windows and built-in cabinetry. Mme Courtet told me that the room was designed in the 1950s by a friend of the conservatrice (female curator) during that time. I would love to have that space at my disposal as my personal office.

After I looked at the drawings, which honestly didn’t turn out to be that pertinent to my particular research topic, we went to the museum’s offices and library across the street. Here, I searched through piles of documents for anything that would aid in my research. I found a few articles, but nothing earth shattering. However, a real treat was coming up…

Richter3.jpgWhile I had been waiting in the foyer for Mme Courtet to arrive that morning, I had seen a postcard for James Tissot’s Le Petit Nimrod. My freshman year, I wrote my first semester-long research project on this piece and the effect of the contemporary thought on its iconography. Since then, I have always loved Tissot and his entire oeuvre (however, this piece holds a special place in my heart).

I am guessing that during my research, I had found that the painting was in Besancon. However, that would have meant little to me at the time. I knew that I hadn’t seen the piece on display in the museum’s permenant collections the day before. So, I decided to take a chance and ask Mme Courtet about it. I told her that I had written a text on its iconography, and she was very interested. She told me that the piece was currently off display due to the temporary exhibition, but that she would try to find it for me to see.

They store all of the paintings off display in a large space with a loft. There were paintings upon paintings stacked up. She was worried that she might not be able to find it, and obviously it wouldn’t have been safe for her and I to try to move any of the works ourselves (they are large and should only be handled by professionals).

Luckily, when we entered the upstairs loft, there it was, larger than I had imagined, in front of all the other works (see photo, I took a picture of the postcard after I bought it). The only thing better than getting to see this work in the museum was getting to see it in the reserve room away from all of the other visitors and the structured setting of a museum. It was surreal. My first love and my first subject as an art historian. I will cherish that moment always.

Who knew that my adventure on the Richter more than two years after my original exposure to this piece would bring me right back to James Tissot and the iconography of the Other? The centerpieces of my two greatest works of research – Tissot’s Le Petit Nimrod and Boucher’s La Tenture Chinoise – housed by the same museum! What are the chances?!

I spent the remainder of my time in Besancon exploring some of the city. I really wanted to see Le Doubs (the river that surrounds the city’s center) and just walk the historic streets, which are home to many cathedrals, shops, and historic monuments. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see more during my limited time in this beautiful city. I guess that means I have a reason to return. This trip was extremely relaxing and rewarding personally and in the context of my research. I ended the evening with a raspberry tart and a cafe mokka (the French have a different spelling). So delicious and so French!

The next day I would return to Paris, where my adventure continues…

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Free Time? What is that!?!

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).

Richter%2B301.jpgParis 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.

Richter%2B353.jpgAfter 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.

Two Brazilians
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?

Richter%2B354.jpgA 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.

Richter%2B374.jpgLe 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.
Les Invalides

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.

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Qu’est-ce que c’est une Bibliotheque en France?

This previous week was unbelievably crammed with work at the libraries, hence my title “What is a Library in France?.” Navigating the Paris libraries is definitely a full-time job. Therefore, I apologize for the amount of time that has elapsed between entries. But I have many new stories to share.

My apprehensions, again …
As I stated previously, I was unbelievably nervous about going to the Bibliotheque National de la France. I know, it seems like almost every time I talk about doing something new I first have a disclaimer about my constant state of worry. I am working on it. That is part of what this trip is all about.

However, the BNF isn’t your average library. I have told several people to think of the National Archives in Washington, DC, or another national institution. They don’t just let anyone in from off the street. You have to go through security, be screened, be interviewed, and sometimes be scrutinized, just to get in the door. So, to say the least, I was apprehensive.

Over the years at SMU, I have heard many varied stories about the BNF. It seems that if you are an art historian, you have at least visited the BNF once, or possibly dozens of times, to consult one of the many resources contained within its enormous collection. The stories I had heard were as varied as the people telling them. So, I basically was even more confused and scared than if I knew nothing.

Luckily, a few weeks ago I solicited the advice of a good friend who had visited the BNF several times last semester for a research project during her enrollment in the SMU-in-Paris semester-long program. She gave me detailed instructions on what and what not to do when I went to apply for my reader’s card. So, at least I had a plan of attack, right?

The 13th (Could it be a lucky number after all?)
The BNF is located on the South side of the Seine in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. When you step out of the metro you are in a very different city than the Haussmann Boulevards of the 8th or the medieval streets of the 4th. You are somewhere that looks like it could be any metropolis in the United States. However, I don’t say this to create a comforting feel. No, this is only a further illustration of the formal tone established at the BNF.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance is directly across the street, if that is any indication. Most of the people you see are male, and they are in business suits. However, you also see a lot of students and other academics near the BNF, mostly French. Luckily, the building is relatively easy to find once you arrive from the metro. Although, the building itself is HUGE and has several different entrances.

In France, which entrance you choose is extremely important. It can mean the difference between accomplishing your goal or being turned away abashed. Julia had already told me that it was imperative I enter through the East doors. Luckily there is a large sign that says “L’EST.” After passing through security at the main doors, I headed to a small office to apply for my card (Rez-de-Jardin).

The Not-so-Painful Process
Applying for the reader’s card is a mix between going to the DMV and getting interviewed for admittance into a prestigious university. An odd combination, I know. When you go in, you take a number. There is an electronic screen that displays your number and the letter of the cubicle you need to go to for your interview once someone is available. Luckily, there wasn’t much of a wait. I only had two people in front of me. Now this is the part that I had been the most stressed about.

Basically what happened once I was called back to a cubicle is, they looked over my letters of introduction from my professors, entered information into the system from my passport, and asked me about the nature of my research. Luckily, my French didn’t fail me. The woman interviewing me was pleasant, but strict. She asked me to read her my passport number. She said that she couldn’t see it, which I thought was odd considering she had been able to enter my name and other personal information listed on it. However, looking back, I think she was testing my French. No problem there. And Voila! I was in and had my reader’s card (valid for 15 days).

Navigating the System
After obtaining the coveted card, I decided to go and explore the reading rooms. Before I could do that, I had to check my purse at the coat check and put anything I wanted to take with me into the reading room into a clear, plastic laptop back. Also, you must make a reservation before entering the reading rooms. This ensures you a particular seat with lamp and power outlets. Also, it allows you to reserve books. When your books are ready at the circulation desk, a little green light on your desk will flash. Very efficient.

So, I spent the next three days at the BNF trying to master the system of requesting books, actually receiving them, and taking notes on my findings. Each day was a little more successful than the last. My third day, I actually got books from the circulation desk. I have to admit that the system at the BNF can be very cryptic, especially if you aren’t extremely proficient in French and assertive enough to demand proper explanations, two things I am currently working on. Many times they come up with reasons as to why you can’t see the book, or they just tell you that they can’t find it. My only solution thus far is just trying again another day. If I am persistent enough, hopefully they will give in.

A Change of Scenery, peut-etre?
I admit, after three days, I was down-trodden and not feeling very productive. I decided that I needed a change of scenery and to consult more catalogues I knew would be rich in images. I decided to try the Bibliotheque des arts decoratifs for a few days and enhance my visual vocabulary of chinoiserie. The entire basis of my research stems from the questions I ask regarding the discrepant iconography present in various pieces. To say the least I found a treasure trove. However, I also realized how much more research I have ahead of me. Just cataloguing these images, many of them not published in the United States, could take years. For many, we don’t know the artist, the date, or the country of origin. So, I found a lot of amazing images, but a lot of research remains to be done.

All in all, I really enjoy the Bibliotheque des arts decoratifs. It is extremely peaceful, and there are many students around, which makes it less stuffy than the BNF. Also, it is incredibly small (maybe the size of SMU’s Bridwell Library, but with one large reading room). Therefore, I’ve gotten to know the staff, and they have been wonderful assets. Aside from all of the research that has been monopolizing my time, I have found a few precious moments to enjoy Paris, not from inside a library (see my next post for more info on that…).

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Le Weekend: A lot of research … and a little fun

Richter%2B269.jpgLa Vie d’une Chercheuse (The Life of a Researcher)

As the title of this post states, I split my time this weekend between researching/preparing and afternoon study breaks. I was feeling really apprehensive about going to the BNF (Bibliotheque Nationale de la France), so I wanted to ensure that I was as prepared as possible. This meant a lot more research and also getting my information gathered and organized.

I must admit that I was a little upset spending my entire weekend preparing for the BNF. When making my itinerary, I had thought that I would be prepared to go directly from the looking days into the libraries. Well, I was wrong. Getting organized was not something that I had accounted for. Now, I am two days behind, according to my itinerary (my first day at the BNF should have been Friday), but I guess that is how research trips go. Next time I will know to factor in that extra time, and in the meantime, I will be working hard to make up for the two lost days of library research.

Although I was stressed, I have to say that the time spent in my apartment was not only productive, but also extremely relaxing. I have found that my apartment is a beautiful and peaceful place to conduct research, and since I have internet access, a world of information rests at my fingertips (how convenient). So, I spent the weekend looking through the 200+ pictures I had taken at the Paris museums and noting potential leads for my research (see photo: me engulfed in the research process). It was a lot of work, but hopefully it will pay off this week at the BNF.

Exploring the St. Michel Area
Friday night, after a long day of work, Christy and I headed over to St. Michel to explore and have dinner. First we went by the Sorbonne (one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Paris). Christy will be utilizing the resources at its library for part of her research. I had already toured the gardens last summer during a lecture with Dr. Wellman, so I was familiar with the university in its historical context. It is a large complex that claims a large part of the street where it sets. It was very imposing at night, with few students around.

After looking around for a bit, we headed to rue de la Huchette. This is an extremely touristy area, but there are a lot of interesting and inexpensive restaurants around. We decided on a Greek place that had a lot of energy surrounding it. The entire meal we were constantly reminded of our surroundings by the random yelling of “Opa!” and the breaking of plates in the entry way. I had la formule (one of the set price menus), which included mussels in a tomato sauce for the appetizer, moussaka as my main dish, and an apple tarte for dessert. Delicious!

Next, we headed toward the Seine. This was the first time I had actually looked upon the river since my previous trip. For some reason, it is a place that really resonates with me. In my opinion, it is as iconic as the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. Also, it is absolutely beautiful by night. The city lights up, and you can see everything reflected in the water. It is fun to watch the boats go under the bridges and just take in the city.

Along the Seine, we found a small cafe, and I had my first coffee in France. I had heard that French coffee is spectacular and really wanted to see for myself. I am a new coffee drinker. The bug finally bit me this last year after two years of college. However, I usually don’t drink it in the mornings, and I definitely don’t drink it black. I ordered a cafe viennois, which is coffee with whipped cream. I wasn’t disappointed! French coffee has a completely different taste than American coffee. It tastes extremely fresh and rich. OOOhhh, I am spoiled now!

Richter%2B226.jpgLe Marais
Saturday Christy and I met for a late lunch, and I took her to the Luxembourg Gardens. It was extremely relaxing to sit by the Medici Fountain and eat our sandwiches and quiche. However, since it was the weekend, it was also a little crowded. The area by the fountain tends to be more quiet though, and we still had an enjoyable time.

Next, we headed to the Marais to do some shopping. Le Marais is one of my favorite districts in Paris. It has maintained the look and charm of Medieval Paris and is full of small, winding streets. In recent years, it has become a very hip neighborhood, and a lot of younger people reside in the many apartments. It is one of my favorite places to shop. You find a little of everything. Some places are extremely chic and very expensive, but there are also hidden gems along the crowded streets. So, we had a wonderful afternoon window shopping and people watching.

Richter%2B272.jpgLe Marais is also home to the Place de Voges (a chic shopping area with a historical background) and the Musee Carnavalet (museum devoted to the history of the city of Paris). I had been to both previously, but I hadn’t gotten to experience the splendor of the surrounding gardens. The Musee Carnavalet has a beautiful courtyard, which is open to the public. It was in full bloom, and we just couldn’t resist taking a closer look (see photo). A lot of people were sitting outside chatting or reading. Many others were tourists, such as ourselves, taking a billion photos. Truly a beautiful place.

For dinner we went to a neighboorhood Japanese restaurant. I had green curry. Yummy! Christy and I both are huge curry fans, and this restaurant was excellent. Also, it was an interesting mix of people. There was a table of French students behind us, who were all speaking English. Then there was a couple next to us possibly from Holland. They spoke English fairly well, but to one another, they spoke another language (sounded like Dutch). We will definitely be returning there if we get another craving for curry.

Richter%2B239.jpgI have to say that one of my favorite things of the weekend though, and Paris in general, was the amazing pastries! Between gelato, coffee, and pastries … I may never want to leave. One of my favorites was a raspberry tart (see photo) that I picked up Sunday at a nearby patisserie. Absolutely exquisite!

Conquering the Libraries … hopefully
All in all, the weekend was extremely productive. I can only hope that this week at the BNF proves to be the same. I am really nervous because I have heard a lot of horror stories. However, Dr. Roynier and my friend Julia, who was in the SMU-in-Paris program all last year, have prepared me with a lot of information on how to handle myself. Let’s hope that it goes well. Wish me luck, and be looking for more updates to come.

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The French Aesthetic

What is a “looking day”?
The past three days I have been to various locations in Paris seeking out all the city has to offer in relation to chinoiserie. I also found many little treasures along the way – some expected, some not (more on that in a minute).

Basically what my looking days entailed was visiting each museum, finding the objects that could be pertinent to my research (i.e., European-made chinoiseries, Chinese-made objects from the same period, paintings that provide commentary on the trend (le gout chinois), period furniture that contains imagery relating to China, etc.), taking extensive notes on the style and imagery seen in the pieces, and then compiling all of that information to look for themes, discrepancies, trends, connections, and so forth.

Le Musee des arts decoratifs
I awoke my first looking day to a cold and drab Paris, but I braved the elements and set off early in the morning for the Musee des arts decoratifs. I was a little nervous because I am not very familiar with the area. It is very close to the Louvre, which I spent 18 hours in last summer with SMU-in-Paris. However, we would usually enter the Louvre via the underground entrance from the metro (M: Palais Royal Musee du Louvre). So, I kind of knew where I was, but not really. Luckily, I found it no problem. It is GIGANTIC, that may be why.

I went in and got my ticket and map. The museum has 10 levels, eight of which house collections, the other two are home to the museum restaurant, gift shop, grand entrance, and offices. I found the floors devoted to the 17th and 18th century and searched for anything resembling chinoiserie. Fortunately, they had an entire gallery labeled “chinoiserie”.

Some of the works I had already seen online, but they definitely didn’t disappoint. I would say that the uniqueness of these pieces in the realm of chinoiserie are going to be extremely instrumental to my research. So I spent 2.5 hours taking notes on and pictures of these objects. By this time I was getting tired, and honestly, I really didn’t care to see the other seven floors, which are unrelated to my topic.

Richter1.jpgMusee Cernuschi and le Parc Monseau
I decided to go to the Asian art museum that Dr. Roynier had mentioned to me: Musee Cernuschi. I am soooo glad that I did. I was a little worried once again because I am COMPLETELY unfamiliar with the district that this museum is in. I mean completely. Never been there before. I knew the metro stop for the museum and that it was near a park so I decided to wing it. When I got out of the metro, the park was right in front of me, and I decided to have a look around before seeking out the museum.

The park (Parc Monceau) was so quaint and had neat architectural elements (see photo). Close to one side of the park, I noticed a sign for the museum, and it turns out that you can actually enter the museum via the park.

Richter2.jpgThe museum is housed in a renovated mansion. The collection was donated to the city of Paris by the museum’s namesake, Herni Cernuschi, at the end of the 19th century. Cernuschi was an Italian exile who immigrated to France; however, he left France for Asia in the early 1870s due to continued repression. During his travels around Japan and China, he collected over 5,000 pieces of art. The site of the museum is actually his mansion, where he housed many of the items during his lifetime. Over the years others have donated objects, and currently the collection is very grand indeed. The collection is predominately Chinese (Neolithic to the Song Dynasty), which was a rare treat for me as someone who wants to continue studies in the field of women’s roles in late imperial China. To say the least, I was completely overjoyed to find this treasure of a museum hidden in the streets of Paris!

In one of the rooms was a large Buddhist statue atop a geometric archway that spanned two floors (maybe 40 feet, see photo).

I took a ton of pictures of the objects.

Several pieces reminded me of the Chinese ceramics exhibition at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas where I interned last Fall.

Richter3.jpgMusee Guimet
The next day, I made my trip to the Musee Guimet. This is the premier Asian art musuem in Paris. It spans five floors (much smaller than the Musee des arts decoratifs), and houses collections from all over Asia (India, SE Asia, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Japan, Korea, etc.). The main things that I needed to see were located on the uppermost floors: decorative arts of China (over 10,000 pieces in this collection) and the pottery from the Imperial manufactory of Jindezhen. However, I decided to tour the rest of the museum as well. I came to the Guimet last summer for a class with Dr. Freidel, but I never felt like I had gotten enough time to fully explore. So, this was my chance.

I saw so many marvelous things in such a short span of time, it is difficult to remember them all. One of my favorite galleries was filled with Buddhist statues from Indonesia (see photo). They were all unique in character, but with an overarching style. This museum visit was definitely worthwhile for my research and for my personal enjoyment.

The Buddhist Pantheon
While looking on the Guimet website earlier in the week, I had seen something about a Buddhist pantheon in Paris. It is extremely close to the Guimet and currently contains the original collection of Emile Guimet. I was curious and decided “why not?” considering I was already so close by. Entering the space was an odd experience. No one was around, and I felt like I was entering a sacred and forbidden place. I soon found a museum worker who waved me on. You don’t have to buy tickets, and there are no brocheres. So, you really just go in and start looking around.

The collection is relatively small. Something that I found really neat was a room that had over 50 guilded and painted Buddhist statues elevated on a stage-like structure and situated extremely close together to form a mandala. It was a surreal experience to see so many at once. The pantheon also touts beautiful Japanese gardens. Unfortunately, during my visit, they were under construction. However, I believe that they are scheduled to reopen at the end of June. Maybe I will be able to catch them right before my departure.

That is one thing about Paris that has been extremely frustrating – construction and renovation have been my plight recently (to be explained by looking day three).

That night, I discovered another little treasure of Paris: a new favorite gelato place. Amorino has a chain of storefronts in Paris, and there is one close to my apartment. The mango gelato is simply the best. Well, it is also all that I have sampled. But, why mess with a good thing? So, I got my gelato and went for a walk around the Luxembourg gardens (a perk of my location in Paris). It was a very peaceful evening, which was good because I knew the next day was going to be packed.

Richter4.jpgA Day of Renovation and much need Rejuvenation
Yesterday, my third looking day, I visited the Louvre. Considering that the Louvre is probably the most well-known and visited museum in the world, I had my apprehensions. I can’t say that I was looking forward to being in a space with the throngs of humanity. Well, when I got there, it actually wasn’t too crowded. The part of the museum that I needed to see was fairly empty. However, the part of the museum I needed to see was also closed for renovation. Once again plagued by renovation.

I asked the guard when the collection would reopen. I thought “maybe it will be available by the end of my trip.” I was wrong. He said “four years”. At first, I thought that I misunderstood or that he was joking. No. I found a sign, and sure enough, it said 2011. Well, there were a few pieces I did see from the reign of Louis XVI that were instructive. But probably the worst thing is not knowing what I missed. They could be sitting on something that would completely alter the course of my research, or they could have the same things as everywhere else. The trouble is that I don’t know which situation is the reality.

I am going to try to find a catalouge of the collection. We will see how that turns out. Also, I took a brief stroll through the Egyptian galleries. Such a wonderful collection of objects (see photo).

Next, I went to see if I could get any information on the Musee d’Ennery. The Musee d’Ennery is a collection of 17th, 18th and 19th century objects from the Far East that were compiled by a prominent Parisien couple in the second half of the 19th century. The website has said for months that the museum is closed for renovation. So, I have kept thinking “maybe it will reopen while I am in Paris”. No such luck. It seems that the museum has been closed since at least 2005, and no one seems to have any information on when it will reopen. Luckily, I know that some of the Paris libraries have catalogues of the complete collection. Hopefully I will be allowed to examine them during my library visits.

Richter5.jpgAfter three days of looking and a lot of walking, I was in dire need of a break. Luckily, one of my good friends and fellow art history majors arrived in Paris just in time. Christy is also in France on a Richter Fellowship conducting research regarding the early Greek colonies in the South of France. She has been to Paris once before during the SMU Honors Program pilgrimage. However, since she only got to spend an extremely limited amount of time here, I am serving as her guide to “The City of Lights”.

First we had dinner at a cafe near the Eiffel Tower. I had my first Croque Madame (ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top) of the trip. Oh, yummy. Next, we went to the Les Halles district to experience the amazing architecture of St. Eustache. Then a night of all-French conversation and more Amorino gelato. Magnifique!

On to research
The next goal for me is to complile all of the photos and notes that I have taken over the last few days and develop a clear visual vocabulary of chinoiserie. Once I have identified themes, discrepancies, connections, etc., I will organize a list of key words and phrases that will aid me in finding the necessary documents for my research. Once armed with a list of sources and search tools, I will be off to the national libraries for research. So, I have a couple long, hard days of research ahead of me. Luckily, Paris is full of entertainment when I need a break. Until next time…

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Bonjour de Paris!

I arrived safely in Paris yesterday afternoon, and it has been a whirlwind ever since.

I would say that the actual airport travel was the least complicated and completely hassel-free, I even got to sleep for a bit (a miracle considering my last flight to Paris). … After this, things got a little more complicated.

The person supposed to handle the check-in for my apartment had problems with his scooter; so, I was left on the side of the street for 40 minutes with all of my baggage. Luckily, the street I am living on is very small and has little to no traffic. I would have much prefered to spend my time at a nearby cafe, however, my luggage prevented this. While I was standing there, I noticed that directly across the street from my apartment is a shop that peddles goods from the Far East and a Japanese Sushi restaurant. The exoticism of the Orient is still very much alive in Paris.

The first glitch
Once I got settled in and unpacked, I was ready to explore. Unfortunately, I had not considered the fact that I was arriving on a Sunday afternoon (almost everything in Paris is closed on Sundays, certainly after mid-morning). This would not have been an issue if I hadn’t needed a meal.

After walking what felt like forever (multiplied by the jetlag), I found it, the one place that was inexpensive and open: McDo (the French slang for McDonalds). I must admit that eating my Filet-O-Fish, even in Paris, alone at a crowded restaurant was not heartening. I began to think “what have I gotten myself in to?.” Things did not improve from there.

Upon returning to my apartment, I decided to charge my laptop … Anyone who has heard my previous horror stories from last summer with SMU-in-Paris will know that the whole adapter/converter thing is what I was the most concerned about this time. Last summer I fried my converter, a battery charger, my flat iron, and turned the electricity off in my hotel room. To say the least, I was apprehensive.

Well, the good news is that I didn’t blow anything up; the bad news is that was because the adapter wouldn’t fit into the wall socket! Urg! Ok, so now I was stressed. I had spent so much time researching about the difference between converters and adapters, the voltage in France versus the U.S., the fact that my laptop power cord was dual voltage, and insuring that I got a three-prong adapter. All for nothing?

I figured that since I had a meeting with Dr. Roynier in the morning I would see what advice she had. In the meantime, why not visit one of my favorite places in Paris: Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

One of the best places in Paris
The Luxembourg Gardens are a short walk from my apartment (maybe 10 minutes). I was so happy to find a reasonably priced apartment in the 6th arrondisement (French neighborhood) near this iconic site. The other motive of this particular visit to the gardens was to find the ice cream stand I had visited during my last visit. Luckily, Paris did not fail me. Ice cream is almost always nearby, and this time was no exception. I got deux boules de pistache (two scoops of pistachio) and sat in front of le Fontaine de Medici, enjoying the general splendor.

I had forgotten some of the typical Parisian behaviors: the French are not afraid of eye-contact with strangers (to the point of staring), French couples are extremely affectionate (even in public), and the French do not have the American concept of personal space (aka the invisible bubble). My first day was a good crash course, and I was definitely looking forward to my meeting with Dr. Roynier and hoping that she could shed some light, particularly regarding my computer issues.

Fixing things and Lesson One
I was not disappointed. My meeting with Dr. Roynier was extremely productive and left me feeling so much better about the circumstances.

Firstly, she gave me my letters for the French libraries, which will be a great help in assuring access to these institutions. Also, she helped me decide on the right metro card for me (Navigo Decouverte, things have changed since I was here last summer) and told me about the FNAC (a place that I will be eternally grateful to for providing life to my computer). Sounds a little extreme, but at the time it was completely fitting.

My next adventure was my first grocery shopping trip to the Monoprix (similar to a CVS but larger and with a small supermarket) about a 30-second walk from my apartment door. I had been to the Monoprix last summer to get several things, but this was my first time buying grocery items. Well, if someone was going to mess up, of course it had to be the American tourist. There have been so many times the last few days that I’ve wanted to say, “Oui, je suis une touriste americaine” (Yes, I am an American tourist), as if that would explain it all.

Well, I got up to the checkout counter and was so proud that I had found all of the items on my list, including a mini-trashcan for my bathroom, which was previously not girl-friendly. An older French couple came up behind me in line, and the woman kept touching the handle on my cart. I kept telling myself that it was just the French disregard for personal space.

Finally, as I am putting my items on the circulation belt, the lady asks me a question in French. I was not mentally prepared to be spoken to and thought, for a moment, that she was asking where I had gotten the mini-trashcan I was holding. No. She was talking about my fruit and needing to do something at the back of the store. Soon the cashier chimed in. I thought maybe I was supposed to purchase my produce separately? I asked if I could do this afterwards. Then I realized they were saying that I needed to get stickers for my fruit so that the cashier could ring them up. They did not have the product codes or scales at the cash register like in America. I guess this is exactly like some of the products at Central Market and Whole Food stores, where you get the peanuts or something from the dispensers and then weigh and label them yourself before check out. Well, I was unaware that this was the procedure for fruit in France as well. Now I know.

Lesson One: Watch closely what the French do and imitate.

A Parisien encounter and Lesson Two
By the end of that adventure I ate leftovers for dinner at my apartment, and 6pm was fast approaching. I didn’t think that I could stand staying in my apartment for the remainder of the night, especially after my shopping experience (I am one of those people who likes to write over bad experiences with good ones). So, why not go to my other favorite place in the city? So cliche, but yes, the Eiffel Tower. However, I most enjoy the surrounding gardens (Parc du Champ du Mars) and the Avenue de la Bourdonnais (a great Parisien street).

While sitting in the garden enjoying a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, I had a pleasant conversation with a young French boy and his father (my first conversation in French this time around that did not involve someone helping me at an establishment). It was so nice to experience Parisien hospitality; I felt so welcome. We talked about the city and art history. He seemed to really love Paris, and he was very proud that I was making a return visit. Also, he was impressed that I was an American who spoke French (I think that the French have low standards in regards to American tourists). All in all, it was a wonderful experience.

One minor glitch though … On my way to the Eiffel Tower, I was waiting to cross the street (the French have green and red walk signs, just like in the States) and had a run-in (not quite literally) with French traffic. In Paris, the cars almost always have the right-of-way, even if the green “walk” symbol is lit. Well, I was waiting for the symbol to appear and watching the traffic. The Parisiens, however, are not as patient as I. They watch the traffic and always try to get across even if it doesn’t say “walk”.

Well, keeping lesson one in mind, the Parisien lady next to me started to walk, and without even looking at the traffic sign, I started to walk too. Big mistake. She may have had enough time to run across, but I difinitely didn’t. A van honked and slammed on the brakes.

So, Lesson Two: Don’t always follow the Parisiens’ lead (they know more and are more comfortable taking risks) – pay attention and watch out for yourself.

Stay tuned
In hindsight, the past few days have been a roller coaster of emotions and adventures. The next few days on my itinerary are “looking days.” This means that I will be visiting some of the city’s museums to gain a strong visual vocabulary in regards to chinoiserie. Bonne nuit (Good night)!

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