September 12, 2012

I arrived at Agatheís last night at around 10pm. Agathe (pronounced ďa-GETĒ) is wonderful. She generously offered me space in her tiny little Parisian studio for three nights, solely out of the goodness of her heart. Agathe is a young Foley artist who is going back to school to get her Masters in sound design for film animation. We it off right away.

I tell you, this Couchsurfing thing is pretty great. Staying in a localís home is truly invaluable ó not only in the financial and logistical sense, but also as a truly wonderful cultural exchange. Seriously, guys, itís amazing.

Random Fun Fact: Did you know that all of the bakers in Paris have to register their personal vacations with the city, and then post a list of nearby bakeries on their door when they leave? Otherwise they are fined?! This dates back to the days when most of the people were living almost entirely on bread, so if all of the bakers left town at once, the people would go hungry.

Another Fun Fact: One of the causes of the French Revolution was the eruption of the Laki Fissure in Iceland. This significant seismic event severely altered weather patterns, eventually causing a catastrophic hailstorm in France, which killed much of the seasonís grain crop. This lack of supply (and tremendous demand) ó coupled with the fact that grain prices were not regulated by the government ó led to vast inflation of grain prices and starvation among the French peopl. Itís no surprise that the people, spurred on by the young and liberal intellectual nobility, rose up against the monarchy (which was doing nothing to help them).

Another interesting connection: The creation of Parisian coffee shops was instrumental in fueling the French Revolution. Intellectuals could gather in privately owned shops and speak openly and on equal footing. Shops like these proved to be important places to stir up passion, inspire debate, and initiate action. What an inspiring time to be a young idealist. It is so tragic that so many of these revolutionaries fell victim to their own revolution; during the Reign of Terror (a witch-hunt lasting thirteen years in which tens of thousands were tortured and beheaded), most of the revolutionaries went to the guillotine. (Danton was quoted as saying, ďThe revolution devours its own children.Ē)

And thenÖ isnít it CRAZY that the people who fought so hard for reform accepted Napoleonís meteoric rise to power and subsequent crowning?!?!?!?

This period of time is so interesting I almost canít even stand it.

One more interesting thing before I move on: I had originally thought that the revolutionaries wanted to abolish the monarchy, but this is not in fact the case. They instead wanted to create a kind of constitutional monarchy, where the voice of the people had legitimate weight. Louis 16 actually worked with the revolutionaries for a time, though he kept using his veto power to vetoÖ well, pretty much everything. (Which is why he was eventually arrested on charges of Treason, convicted, and executed.)

OK, one last thing, I promise: After the Reign of Terror, Dr. Guillotine tried to go into private practice. This didnít go over too well, however, as people didnít want to get their check-ups with ďDr. Guillotine.Ē

Hokay. So. I really am going to stop writing about the French Revolution (for now). And instead write about Impressionist Movement! Because today I visited Claude Monetís gardens and home in Giverny!

The Impressionists cared more about capturing light and essence than capturing finite detail, which is where the term ďImpressionismĒ comes from; instead of aiming for photo-realism, artists instead painted their impressions of a scene. With portable easels and the advent of tubes for paint, artists were able to paint on location and, since Paris in the mid-1800s was basically a huge construction zone, itís no surprise that many Impressionist artists took the train into the country to paint.

My trip out to Giverny was led by Fat Tire Bike Tours (I went to Versailles with the same company a few days ago and loved it). The group boarded the train in Paris and picked up our bicycles in Vernon, a little town a short distance from Giverny. I felt a little ant-social at the beginning of the trip, but eventually an overheard conversation drew me in, and I met several people, all of whom were really great. There was Rachael from Australia, Kevin and Amber from Toronto, and Michelle from Texas, as well as a few more cool people (though I donít remember their names). Before biking to Giverny, we bought lunch from the market in Vernon and then picnicked on the banks of the Seine. The group got along really well and the wine was flowing and everyone was sharing their market finds and the sun came out from behind the clouds and it was all so perfect and picturesque it was absurd.

(While engaged in a conversation about how Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray, Kevin said, ďIf youíve gotta go early, itís good to be doing something you love. Which is why Iím going to die eating this sandwich.Ē)

After lunch, we biked about three miles through the French countryside on a sunny autumn day. Gah. Gaaaaaah. I just kept looking around at the farms and fields and the cottages dating back to the 12th century and thinking, ďIíve got to remember this. And this. And this.

Giverny is a tiny little town along a single cobblestone road in Normandy. Monet moved to Giverny when he was in his early forties, at the height of his career, and began planting his garden. The water lilies and weeping willows and footbridges and wildflowers were so peaceful and serene; itís no wonder why Monet painted scene after scene of these environs. Walking through the grounds felt like walking through his paintings, which was such a special feeling. I had one of Monetís water lily paintings on my wall for years, and I found the exact spot from which he must have painted it and just looked and breathed and looked and breathed some more.

Monetís house was also beautiful. Rustic. Open. Brightly painted. I could imagine so many happy scenes around the table in his sunny yellow dining room, windows open onto the wild garden, petals and ivy and arbors.

So much of Monetís painting deals with light. He in fact would often paint several canvasses at once, switching canvasses when the light changed. Bright sun, so work on this painting. Sun goes behind the cloud, work on this one. Half-light, twilight, sunrise, sunset, all different canvases. The weather was very obliging on our visit, shifting from sun to cloud to sun again, showing me the whole scene in so many different shades.

When we arrived back in Paris, I said goodbye to my new friends and took the Metro up to Montmartre. Walking along the cobblestoned streets in the cool evening, darkness fallen, streetlights shining, I felt so peaceful in my own little world. I really do love this city. And I love my current place in it.

I attended the cabaret at the Lapin Agile tonight, a dimly lit bar of wooden tables and stools, red fabric flung over the lights. Many French luminaries have sung in the Lapin Agile, and it felt amazing to be in a place of such artistic importance. The show was the opposite of the presentation at the Moulin Rouge ó no glitz, no glamour, no dance, no sets or costumes. Instead, the evening featured several people sitting around a table with beer and wine, singing French standards to the plucky and enthusiastic notes of the piano. Sometimes the people would all sing, sometimes one or two would stand and sing solo. An accordion made an appearance, as did a guitar. I sat on my wooden stool, leaning against the wall, a full glass of wine in front of me, sleepily lulled by the music and the ambiance.

Around midnight, I stumbled back through the Montmartre, cafes still very alive on every corner. And then the Metro and then a walk from Nation, and then to Agatheís.

Tomorrow: a chocolate tour, the Musťe díOrsay, the Eiffel Tower, and a night bike around ParisÖ