27 – La Vie en Rosé

…et rouge et blanc. Actually no rosé was consumed during my brief escape to the metropolis sur Seine. On the other hand, I got three days of wonderful diet based on foie gras, cheeses, escargots and andouillette. And wine (because drinking regime is important). Probably not a particularly healthy diet, but seriously, does anyone really care? I’d probably die of clogged veins and some obesity-related disease within 6 months if I ever moved to France, but oh, would I die happy. I’d probably even stop having impure thoughts all the time. Well, let’s just not get ahead of ourselves. There is a good chance that I’d just incorporate foie gras in my impure thoughts.

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You may never understand how much effort it took to make the place look deserted

I met one of my best friends Ornella years ago in my flat in Prague. Not by chance, of course. Her then-boyfriend is a friend of my then-boyfriend and they came to visit us to Prague for a week. Complicated? Neither of us is with our former boyfriends anymore, but between us girls it was love at first sight. We’ve stayed in touch ever since, and when Ornella moved to Vancouver almost 3 years ago, I came to visit, and when she told me she was going to be in Paris for work during the Easter break, I booked the Eurostar straight away. Of course I did. She crossed a continent and an ocean, why wouldn’t I cross the English Channel?

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Reunion à Paris

Day 1

I arrived to Gare du Nord on Thursday afternoon and met Ornella at the arrivals hall. We headed straight to our rented flat in the heart of Montmartre, I ditched my backpack and suddenly it was wine & cheese o’clock. The downside to staying in Montmartre is the continuous stream of tourists, but the undisputed upside is the embarrassment of choice between dozens of little très chic wine bars. Approximately two minutes after closing the door behind us, we came across this charming little place asking a very philosophical question on the facade: do you prefer pork to art? Well, that is the question really, isn’t it? I mean, this is France after all. Very few nations can make a pig become a piece of art in the same way the French can.

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Art or pork?

After a couple of glasses of Provencal vermentino (or as they call it around there, rollé) and the first of many cheese platters, we took a little walk around Montmartre, had another glass of bubbles, and went to see the screening of the film Ornella had worked on as editor, which was the main reason she was in Paris. The film festival itself was a bit of a joke, a bunch of american and english university professors inventing an ad-hoc film festival to justify a holiday in Paris (well, call them stupid, huh?).

And then there was this…

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This was a normal insignificant selfie…
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…until Ornella commented: the Taj Mahal is rather pretty, huh? (I wonder if anyone else finds this funny)

 

Day 2

The plan was: walk to the centre, see some art, walk around, and, of course, eat. We slowly made our way from Pigalle through Neuvieme Arrondissement, Opera and Place Vendôme to the Grand Palais with the intention to see the Rodin exhibition, but by the time we arrived there, the queue to get inside was over 2 hours longs, so I purchased tickets on my cellphone for the day after (I should have thought about it before, really) and we continued across the Seine towards Tour Eiffel to take a couple of indecent pictures (below). I mean, Brunelleschi tought us about perspective for a reason, right? And I swear we were sober. Not a drop of alcohol behind these ideas. I’ve always said that I am more fun sober, after all. Besides, I don’t need to get smashed to loosen up. I’m not English.

After the photographic session at the Champs de Mars we followed the Seine towards the centre, as we had a few hours to fill before meeting Ornella’s Canadian colleague Anthony for dinner. I suggested we went to the Centre Pompidou to see the exhibition of the famous Czech(oslovak) photographer Josef Koudelka that was on display there. Koudelka, emigrated in 1970 and worked though the 70s and 80s travelling around Europe with just his camera and a sleeping bag, sleeping at friends’, at the Magnum agency offices, or rough, before finally settling down in France. He recently donated 75 of his photos to the Centre Pompidou, that exhibits them free of charge for a few weeks in this period.

“When I left Czechoslovakia, I was discovering the world. What I needed most was to travel so that I could take photographs. I didn’t want to have what people call a “home”. I didn’t want to have to desire to return somewhere. I needed to know that nothing was waiting for me anywhere; that the place where I was supposed to be was where I was at the moment and that when there was nothing more to photograph there, it was time to leave for another place.” (JK)

Of course, this statement is a bit extreme, knowing how he lived for almost two decades. But at this moment of my life I can relate thoroughly to this quote. To claim I don’t have a home would be unfair to my parents, of course I have a home, but young people are supposed to build one of their own. And for whatever reason, I haven’t been able to accomplish that (not to mention that I am not that young anymore). Not in terms of physical space, of course, there is no place to be called a home unless there is someone who makes it feel like home, but let’s not make this post a sad one (again).

Speaking of sadness, I know the perfect cure: a few moments with the most tender creature of the universe (note the physical similarity between the dog and his master):

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My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flewed, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew,
Crook-kneed, and dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls,
Slow in pursuit, but matched in mouth like bells (**)
Then it was time to meet up with Ornella’s boss for dinner. Ornella picked the famous Bouillon Chartier, which may be a little touristy, but on the other hand, I always take my foreign friends in Prague to “typical” beerhouses, where not many Czechs actually go, so I guess showing a “typical” Parisian place to a northern American first time in Paris was a good choice. The restaurant is over hundred years old, situated in a former belle époque train station, and boasts a humble “you don’t become a legend by accident” by the entrance door. No bookings accepted, queuing for the table is obligatory, but then the queue goes conveniently around a bar that serves glasses of sangria for a euro, to make your waiting more pleasant. All waiting staff are men, as in any proper french brasserie, your order will be written on the paper cloth on the table, and the final bill will be counted there, too. You will find all internationally acclaimed pillars of the french cuisine on the menu but do not expect anything too refined. I went for andouillette (covered in mustard sauce, to make the whole thing more delicate), which is not for everyone, and it was delicious.

The day was concluded by a visit to a little jazz cavern next to our flat, and although jazz is not really my cup of tea, I have to say that the trio composed by Isabelle (vocals), Sebastian (guitar) and Maurizio (contrabass) was rather charming.

Day 3

Saturday was filled with culture. We started with the beautiful Rodin: Exposition du Centenaire in the Grand Palais. It’s breathtaking and not to be missed if you happen to be in Paris before the end of July. You will find all the famous pieces there: The Thinker, The Kiss, the monument to Balzac, Count Ugolino and his children, La Porte de l’Enfer, The Man with the Broken Nose, you name it. But also many previously unseen studies, sketches and aquarelles are on display; as I said, it’s overwhelming, and would be even worth the several hours of queuing (but really do get your timed ticket online, it’s quite easy).

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Auguste Rodin: The Kiss / Paolo and Francesca

To avoid the Stendhal syndrome, we were in need of refreshment (more andouillette) before heading for the second exhibition of the day, Picasso Primitif in the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac (former ethnographic museum). Now, I had not known what to expect, but I have to admit that this exhibition is regrettably a bit of a piss take. Now, Picasso is known to have been extremely prolific, some say he produced over 50 thousand pieces of art during his career. It cannot all be exceptional, can it? Clearly not. OK, I’m no art critic, but on the other hand I believe art has to mostly speak for itself. I of course will not try to deny the guy’s talent, after all, i spent good 20 minutes at the MoMA admiring the Demoiselles d’Avignon and I almost missed my plane because I took a detour to Guernica on my way to Bilbao airport because I wanted to see the mosaic for myself. However, this exhibition combines exotic artworks (African, Polynesian) and Picasso’s minor paintings, and the link is rather feeble. The first part is just informative panels with photographs and loads of explanations, telling us that Picasso was a regular visitor to the ethnographic museum when he was living in Paris and that some (like 5) of the exposed pieces may have been at some point purchased by him or some of his friends. Second half is a collection of seemingly random exotic objects from different parts of the world, which may be even interesting, if the explanation of their purpose wasn’t somewhat vague; all alternated with never-before-seen (and for a reason) paintings, mostly portraits. Oh, and then it all ends with a big black and white painting that takes very little imagination to interpret, as the subject is a giant erect penis penetrating a vagina (which is great of course, but what does it have to do with african masks and Maori greenstones?). People say I’m obsessed, but really, I think the French beat me. Anyway, the whole thing looks as if the museum needed to make some money, so they threw in a few Picassos for good measure because they knew the name would attract people. Which it did, so well done.

Unfortunately, the next morning it was time to leave. We returned to London together on Eurostar, Ornella headed for Heathrow to catch the flight to Vancouver and I went home to south London.

It was great, Ornella, and I will be seeing you around in the near future. Promise.

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We discovered an old photo booth close to our flat. We went back every night… Best spent money ever

One last thing: this was my 5th visit to Paris, and I have been to many places elsewhere in France. I have been hearing stories about how unpleasant the French are, especially the Parisians, and quite frankly, either they are all lies, or the people spreading these stories were unlucky. Maybe because I speak french, or more likely because I always treat other people with kindness and a smile on my face, but everyone we interacted with was nice, kind and friendly.

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*  there you go, the cultural reference: Pierre Boulat

** William Shakespeare: Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV, Scene I; Theseus speaks about his dogs.


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