September 13, 2012

I went on a chocolate tour of Paris this morning! Yummmm. Yummmm. The tour itself was not too interesting (it did cover the history of chocolate and how chocolate is made, but I feel like I could have read about it much more quickly), but the tastings were YES! SO! GOOD! As you may remember, I went on a wine tasting with Josh in South Africa, and it didn’t go so well (namely because wine makes me feel like I am going to catch on fire). Going chocolate tasting is much more my speed. So many subtle flavors from the master chocolatiers, so many nuanced tastes. SO. GOOD.

Everyone’s been telling me that I really ought to go to the Musée d’Orsay while in Paris, so I crossed the river and began walking through St. Germaine. Sam and I used to have a character called the Dangerous Frenchman, who is basically a guy who tries to warn you of impending danger in a TERRIBLE French accent. So: “You do not know when eet weel happen, but it weel happen! Zee dan-jer… eet is right around zee corner! You do not know, but eet eez zere!” On my walk to d’Orsay, I found myself talking like the Dangerous Frenchman, narrating my entire walk, out loud. So: “Look at zee reever! Eet eez zo pretty! But watch out for zee cars because zee Frensh, zey are not zo good on zee road. I will crozz zee street now! I am crozzing zee street!” It may not sound fun/funny now, but let me tell you, it was hysterical at the time.

THE MUSÉE D’ORSAY IS AWESOME. I usually fly through art museums, and was fully prepared to go through this one in thirty minutes flat. Much to my surprise, however, I was reeled in over and over again by statues and paintings that seemed to speak right to me.

The statues in particular were incredible. To breath so much life and emotion into stone takes profound levels of talent, and I marveled at the work, unable to take my eyes off of the man who seemed to be stretching after just waking up, or the woman lying down in the throes of ecstasy. They were people frozen in time. So beautiful.

With paintings, I can walk quickly by a hundred pieces of art in five minutes flat. But then there will be one painting that makes me stop in my tracks, and which can hold me under its spell for many minutes at a time. I think the common denominators are light and relationship. In a landscape, if the light is inspired, I often find myself marveling. And if a painting features people, and the relationship is so visceral it makes my heart beat faster, I will stand and stare and elusively capture that relationship as it flits into and out of my core.

Here are the paintings that spoke to me:

“Solitude” by Alexander Hamilton
”La Famille” by Lue Olivier Merson
”Les Foins” by Jules Bastien-Lepage
”Le jour de visite a l’hôptal” by Henri Geoffrey
”Femme a l’ombrelle tournée vers la gauche” by Claude Monet
”Le Pie” by Claude Monet
”La Balançoire” by Pierre August Renoir
“La Jeunesse et l’Amour” by William Bouguereau
”L’Assaut” by William Bouguereau
”Saint Jean-Baptiste enfant” by Jules LaFrance
”Le Désespoir” by John-Joseph Perraud
”Hébé endormie” by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse
”Secret d’en Haut” by Hippolyte Moulin
”Femme piquée par un serpent” by Auguste Clésinger
”The Age of Bronze” by Rodin
”Le Lit” by Toulouse-Lautrec

The last one — “Let Lit” by Toulouse-Lautrec — specifically caught my attention, and I sat in front of it for about ten minutes, and then revisited it again before I left. Something about it… the familiarity between the lovers, so close that they do not need to touch… the way their bodies are enveloped in the soft down… the headboard behind them that looks like it could also be one of the bridges of the city… the way the woman’s hair is tousled… the way the man’s eyes are half-open, as if the two are engaged in a sleepy and intimate conversation…

I spent about four hours in the museum, visiting several rooms multiple times. And by the end of it, I felt so full and wonderful and educated (I had an audio guide to explain many of the paintings), though my legs were leaden and my brain was fuzzy. I got a drink in the café and absentmindedly stared at the large lion statue, trying to gather my wits and will some life back into my legs. Eventually I was able to stand and stretch and start walking again, this time to the Eiffel Tower.

THE EIFFEL TOWER IS 1060 FEET HIGH AND I WENT TO THE VERY TOP. Eeeeeeeeee! It was really, really high. And the elevator ride was kinda scary, in a breathless fun kind of way. And Paris was tiny from the top, a city of triangular blocks and enclosed courtyards, a city of monuments in lines, a city of far-off green hills, a city that was magnificent in the setting sun.

When I made my way down, I met up with Fat Tire for a night bike ride of the city. The guide, Stu, is the same rad guy who led the Versailles tour. He is fantastic at managing a group, he knows pretty much everything about everything, and he’s really fun to be around. We biked all the central part of Paris — so many glittering and illumined buildings and monuments, people drinking wine along the Seine, the cool air as we rode around and around fountains, up ramps, along bike paths, over cobblestones, beside trees and benches and people holding hands. We would periodically stop, and Stu would give us some history on the area in a way that made it all come alive. Notre Dame and her flying buttresses, L’Ecole Militaire and its famous student, the construction of the Eiffel Tower, St. Chappelle and the Conciergerie, the Latin Quarter, and more. We stopped for Berthillon ice cream and hopped on a boat up the Seine, where there was contraband wine in plastic cups and people dancing along the banks. Most memorable, perhaps, was when we rode fast over a courtyard and then through a myriad of high stone arches, where a lone cellist played sad and stirring music… and then we coasted into the expansive courtyard of the Louvre with its sparkling pyramids and soft glowing buildings.

I will miss this city and look forward to the day when I can return.

Tomorrow: Portugal…