Sunday, July 8, 2007
Okay - so this "Swedish Report" will actually hardly mention Sweden, because this last weekend we spent four days in Paris and those days will dominate this report.
While we were in Paris we did a great number of things, and in order to keep track of them I jotted a list everynight in my little blue day notebook. It looks like
Thursday: fly to Paris/train/Luxembourg garden/hotel/protesters/ June 28 Robin's cafe/Robin-food-czar/Notre Dame/by Louvre/ flute/concorde/walk to Eiffel tower/climb/ subway to St. Michel/crepes/home Friday: breakfast/get food/bread n' roses/museum passes/ June 29 St. Michel station to Versailles/skip lines/chapel/ gallery/chambers/hall of mirrors/garden lunch/rain/ little Versailles/gazebo/grotto/fica/home/dinner Saturday: breakfast/K+T to Cluny/get food/Pantheon/ June 30 Sainte Chapelle/Louvre/Winged Victory/Mona Lisa/ Venus de Milo/ice cream/bungy-trampoline/ ferries wheel/Mont Martre/Sacre Coeur/dinner/ subway home/no cafe/cookies & bed Sunday: Observatory/breakfast/checked out/walked to river/ July 1 boat tour/scouts/lunch cafe/walked by Seine/ 2 level bridge/L'Orangerie/Monet/other art/ice cream/ hotel for bags/Luxembourg & toy sailboats/train/ airport/food?/flight to Stockholm/home @ 1am/eat/bedSo now that you know all the fact - what else is there to say? I'm not going to just describe all the things we saw. As you can see it would take nearly as long as the four days we were there. Also some of you have seen these places, or photos of them, and a lot of people have written scholar and popular piece about them. So all I'll write about is the impression some of them made on me.
One of our first places to visit was Notre Dame, and I think that is a very good place to start. In some sense Notre Dame is like the whole city of Paris crammed under (and on top of) one roof. It is ancient. Versailles is only a third the age of parts of Notre Dame. It has art, most of it serious, but some quirky things too, like the gargoyles and rain spouts. Did you know that the top of the flying buttresses are rain gutters? Did you notice the figures climbing the roof to the steeple?
Notre Dame is also full of people, as is all of Paris. Mass was going on when we arrived complete with priest with gold trim and clouds of incents. The faithful were quite in the pews, and the tourist milling about the back and side of the main sanctuary. And residing over all this confusion, the conflict between the tall stately windows and the gaudy rose window, Notre Dame her self is a gracious lady, unruffled by the commotion of everything happening below her skirt, smiling upon us all as if we were her children.
The Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) was erected upon a whim, which is the way whimsical things should be. Build to stand for the Worlds Fair but then someone forgot to take it down. It may be graceful - from a distance - but up close it is a cobweb of girders with elevators and catwalks, staircases and people. Restaurants and souvenir shops all over the place. It is a disney land like "magic mountain" only for a different time and different people. But it is all about fun and whimsy. If one were to pick one symbol of "Gay Paris" from all the monuments of the capital of France, Tour Eiffel has little competition.
I remember being told in a high school history class that Versailles was build by Louis XIV to bring all those barons and dukes together so the king could keep and eye on them, because if left to their own in their country seats they might venture upon some more independent paths. I also remember thinking, while seeing the Winter Palace in Vienna, that a palace is all about showing wealth, because that also meant showing power. What lowly Count could be received by Louis XIV in Versailles and still believe that he could oppose the king's will? Any ambassador whose country was contemplating going to war with France would would write home counseling peace or even submission after seeing this palace. Versailles was build to impress, which is something it is very good at.
But Versailles has two sides. There is the expansive cobbled courtyard which we hiked over as we, and any seventeenth century ambassador would cross, (now used by rows and rows of tour buses). I expect in the days of the Louises there was always a well orchestrated regiment with shinning buttons and gilded swords on maneuvers when any doubtful ambassador approached. There are endless waiting rooms were the emissaries would sit - looking at vast mural show how France has vanquished its foes, and then the causal gild and wealth of the hall of mirrors and the throne room itself.
But in the back yard of Versailles are acres, miles and kilometers of gardens and park lands. At first this looks like the livable side of the palace. One could imagine the king or queen strolling through the formal gardens, or the hedge mazes. There is also the truly whimsical area which I called the "Little Versailles" - Marie- Antoinette's estate with its own palaces the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. Or is this also just part of the show of wealth and power?
I will say that my favorite parts were the formal flower gardens - especially at the Trianons. Gold and marble have been there for centuries, but flowers show that somebody right now in 2007 thinks their important, and that serenity and life in the garden is important to.
What would Paris be without food? It is good, it comes in a great variety and it is cheaper then we thought it would be. Kristina say that it seems inexpensive because we have got use to Stockholm prices which are - well, not cheap. I think the food is very good, and I had some great duck, crepes and quiche. But I am suspicious that it is not as special as Paris food use to be. Not because the quality has dropped, but rather because the rest of the world has learned to cook. The bread at the bakery near our hotel, "Bread 'n Roses" was awesome. But there is some bread equal to it in Norwich, Vermont too.
At the beginning of the French Revolution there was a great turning against the Church. The Church was viewed as being hand-in-hand with the oppressive overlord, and so a great deal of Church property was seized. This include the church of St. Genevieve (patron saint of Paris) which was transformed into the Pantheon, a monument to the great "Heroes of France". The two things of note are the crypt and the pendulum. Foucault's pendulum is a 28 kg sphere hanging from a wire 67 meters long. That length means it oscillate with a period of 1.6 seconds, which is very stately to watch. It hangs in the middle of the Pantheon and is there to reminded that as solid at the marble floor and the earth below it may seem, we and the earth are in motion, hurling east at over a thousand kilometers per hour.
When we climbed up the spiral staircase into the Sainte Chapelle, Kristina and I both reminisced our first time up these stairs, mine 34 years ago, Kristina's 20 years ago. What is at the end of that round and round spiral? We wanted to see the boys reaction. And then you are there. This is a chapel which is only about light and color. The reds, the blue and even the parchment white! Hundreds of thousands of shards of glass and all to a single purpose which is to instill wonder and inspiration in the viewer.
We finally arrived at the treasury house of Paris, Musee du Louvre. There is far too much here! I remember twenty years ago meeting my bothers and parents in Washington DC. They had gone to the National Gallery the day before and were exhausted. That day we went to the Corcoran and commented on how restful its small size was. Well, our approach was to not look at everything in the Louvre. Rather we picked three famous "must see pieces", and incidentally saw other things between.
I think "Winged Victory" has the best setting of anything in the Louvre. It stands upon a pedestal of a ships prow on the landing of a magnificent stair case at the end of a classical and powerful hall. The "Venus de Milo" is modest in its scale and in the presentation compared to it. But of course the most famous piece in the Louvre is the "Mona Lisa". The Mona Lisa is on the wall opposite the "The Wedding Fest at Cana", which has a lot of action and is huge - and is the opposite in many respects of the Mona Lisa. I stood by the door and listened to person after person come into that gallery, catch sight of the Mona Lisa and exclaim, "It's so small".
But Lisa has a smile! That is unique. It is not just that da Vinci has done a good job of painting her, but it is one of the very few truly happy faces in art!
One last thing about the Louvre is that I like how the museum people have taken this old palace and transformed it into an art gallery. I imagine that at one time it was filled, like Versailles, with too much complicated wallpaper and gold gild. Now most of it has been striped back to a basic stone, which is a very clean surface for displaying the art against. Occasionally a ceiling mural or an ornamental door way was left, but I think even those little detail are a tasteful balance between art and architecture.
We took a boat tour on the Seine. Perhaps we should have started our four days with this instead of saving it to the last day. But it was restful to sit on deck and watch the city go by. I expect that we have only scratched the surface of this metropolitan, and some days I would like to explore up those side canals.
Our last museum was L'Orangerie, which is part of the Louvre, but a separate build at the far end of the Jardin des Tuileries. Our two day museum passes have expired, but it is July 1, and this museum is open free the first of every month. This also meant that there was a line and we had to wait half an hour to get in. The center piece of L'Orangerie are two oval rooms with the panoramic paintings of Claude Monet called "Les Nymphéas". Nymphéas is a type of water lily, and these eight painting are in a real sense the culmination of his water lilies, and maybe even of the whole school of impressionist.
On the lower level of L'Orangerie is a large collection of modern art. I asked Robin what his favorite painting in those galleries was and he told me "the clowns, but you know, they really don't look like they are having any fun." They were painful clowns. And now I think I know why Les Nymphéas and the Mona Lisa are great. Anybody can paint a serious painting which is cluttered with human pain and anxieties, but it is the few paints which do something else which we remember. What I think I want out of art is not a view of life "through the glass darkly", but a picture of life with a bit of sunshine, because I am of the opion that life does have some sunshine. Which brings us nicely to our last scene from Paris.
Our last stop before headed home was again Jardin du Luxembourg, where we ate strawberries and sat in the sun. I like gardens. There are so alive and busy. But it is not the business of a street with people trying to get some place. It is the business of play and joy. Here there are children everywhere. There are pony rides and best of all, in the pool at the center of the gardens there are sail boats. This are simple boat which children rent. Then set the sails at one side of the pool and let the boats sail across, while the captain races around the pool. With a long stick, they redirect their boat, and then are off again to the other side, complete with squeals of joy and delight! It is what a garden really should be.
I think I learned a lot about art and architecture and food and people and what I like and don't like. Maybe that is what Paris is good at. A lot of many things, all wrapped up in a four day holiday.