Because today was Sunday we decided to start off at Nôtre Dame. This place is always mobbed with people (and you know I hate crowds) so we made sure we got up nice and early. Of course the bells were ringing. Was it Quasimodo?
There was a mass being performed in the Cathedral. India and York were quite fascinated since they haven’t ever been to Catholic services before. We were very quiet as we looked at all the chapels and art around the church.
There is one pitiful bathroom in the basement at Nôtre Dame. In case you were wondering.
Our next stop was the Musée d’Orsay. Nearly all the art here is from the 19th century.
Most people like this art museum the best since it’s more user-friendly, popular art. Here is where you’ll find lots of Monets, Renoirs and Van Goghs. As a matter of fact, there was a Van Gogh exhibit which revolved around his mental illness and suicide. Very interesting take on Van Gogh.
There was a ton of Van Gogh’s artwork from several different museums. He is York’s favorite painter so I was glad he had the chance to see so much artwork up close. Van Gogh’s work is really best appreciated in person. I think he was one of the first painters to use the paint itself as an element in the artwork, making the pieces tactile and not just about the visual. The thick brushstrokes and heavy textures of paint are quite a departure from the precise use of paint that had always been the norm up until then. It drives me super crazy to look and not be able to touch. It was a real thrill to see paintings up close that we’ve looked at a hundred times in books. Like this one, the Bedroom at Arles, which is in one of the picture books I’ve read to my kids over and over.
And this one, The Ballet Class by Degas. It was in a little book I read to the children quite often called Can You Spot a Dog? Which is exactly what India said to me when she saw it. Moments like that–where you see a painting in real life that you’ve seen so many times in a book–are exactly why I wanted to take the kids to Europe in the first place.
After visiting so many museums I tend to get a bit silly. Despite all my Art History courses, sometimes art just seems a little ridiculous. Take, for example, this sculpture. I swear the girl is taking a selfie with her iPhone. No really, what is she supposed to be doing?
Or this painting. It was a great big huge thing with lots of stuff happening. The artist seems to be a talented fellow but he’s obviously never held a baby in his life. Perhaps he’s not aware that they’re quite heavy and wiggly. And what, pray tell, is holding up her skirt? Oh, artists! They’re so precious!
This relief was my favorite. I don’t know what it’s proper name is but I like to call it Just Breastfeeding My Twins While My Husband Kills an Alligator. No Big Deal. I especially like that the lady looks very contemporary (and upset!) I get rather tired of everyone having such classical and perfect faces. It’s so generic.
The coolest part of the Musée D’Orsay is this giant clock that looks out over Paris. The museum used to be a train station so there are several large clocks around.
One of my favorite things is museum shops. They’re just the best. As I was perusing the postcards at the Musée d’Orsay shop I spied a postcard of super close-up painting of a woman’s cootchie. No clothing or anything, just a full-on crotch shot. It was not particularly attractive or nicely done*; just, you know, a crotch. Staring me right in the face. And my teenage son. So I picked up the postcard and turned it around and set it back on the shelf. No sooner had I walked away than a woman came hurrying over to turn the card back so that we would all be lucky enough to see such a lovely picture. No doubt she was cursing the prudish American. Am I repressed for not wanting someone’s pubes in my face? (Apparently so.)
After our time at the Musée d’Orsay we had some lunch at a mediocre resatuarant. The one we’d been planning to go to was closed because it was Sunday. Every shop and many restaurants are closed on Sundays in France. You might be surprised as I was because French people don’t seem all that religious. Quite the opposite, really. But this has nothing to do with going to church or keeping one of the Ten Commandments. It has to do with relaxation. The French are very fond of taking it easy. They’re not necessarily lazy like many Latin countries. But they do like their time off. It rather reminds me of myself. I can work hard but I do need to relax on a regular basis. The Puritan work ethic is not particularly vibrant in me. Or in France. The law, as it was explained to me by Pepé, states that every shop must be closed one day per week. If it’s not Sunday than it must be Monday instead. They’d all rather take the weekend off, so everything–and I mean EVERYTHING– is locked up tight. The few shops I found open were ones catering strictly to tourists. I have no idea how they skirt the law, but they do. Moral of the story: save your museums for Sunday. That’s the day when they’ll be open but stores won’t.
We took the bus to a museum called the Musée de Nissim Comondo. It is out in the part of Paris where families actually live; not the suburbs but the more residential area. The museum is a gorgeous townhouse built by a very wealthy man in the 1800’s. He was very fond of 17th century stuff and furnished his house entirely in the most wonderful antiques. It is not huge but is so much nicer than Versailles. He left his house to the French government to be preserved as it was on the day of his death. So all of the original furnishings are just as they were when he died after WWI. The audio tour is quite detailed and fascinating. The family’s existence was quite tragic and it illustrates the idea perfectly not to spend your time amassing a fortune while you’re alive and moth and rust doth corrupt. Life and possessions are both so fleeting.
This was the kitchen which I found just wonderful.
The museum was staffed entirely by French Asians. I have no idea why this was but they were rather cross and refused to give us the head sets for the audio tour because we only had an hour left before the museum closed. I explained probably three times that I understood that we had an hour left but we would still like to listen to the audio tour as long as we could. The lady at the counter very begrudgingly handed them over. While we had to skip over quite a lot of the commentary, we finished in an hour. I would say that if you listen to the whole tour, it would take 2-3 hours to get through the whole thing, even though there are maybe a dozen rooms. As I said, it’s very detailed. If you are a fan of decorative arts and antiques, this would be Heaven for you. Not only is there a tour describing each room, but lots of objects in the room have a separate number on the audio guide so you can hear an explanation of each object as well.
The Nissim Commondo house backs up to a lovely park called the Parc Monceau. Many of the parks in Paris are like the gardens at Versailles: very formal. Lots of trimmed hedges, wide gravel paths and very well kept grass. In several of the parks you aren’t even allowed on the grass, you may only sit on the benches. Parks are always jammed with people. Of course we were there when the weather was absolute perfection; I imagine there aren’t a lot of people out when there’s icy rain. But really, the parks are just jammed with people lying around on the grass. This seemed a bit odd to me until I thought about how small people’s apartments are. If you live in a tiny flat and want to get together with a bunch of friends and hang out you have very few options: one is restaurants and one is parks.
The Parc Monceau is the kind of Park that English and American people are familiar with: rolling grassy hills, a playground, a few pretty statues here and there and much less formality. There were mobs of families and young people all over the place. Children were having pony rides, there were a couple of games of frisbee and catch but most everyone was interested in talking and basking in the glorious sun. I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that I could sprawl out without worrying about fire ants (Texas, this is your biggest flaw!)
We decided we had better get back on our sightseeing schedule so we hopped on a bus. We rarely took the métro in Paris. It’s just not as convenient as taking a bus. And not nearly as scenic. Unlike the busses in London, you can buy tickets on the bus. Which is good because we ran out of tickets. Bus tickets cost 2€ each and you can’t do transfers in between lines, so that stinks. But it’s still way cheaper than a taxi.
We stopped at the Arc du Triomphe. It’s much bigger than I remember. And it was being restored so the top was covered with scaffolding. Not cool, Paris! When I arrive I expect all monuments to be in tip-top shape.
Of course we had to stroll down the Champs Elysées afterwards. There were lots of tourists everywhere but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as lots of other places we’d been. There are several car dealerships on the Champs Elysées which seems strange to me. Who would buy a car in the middle of Paris? Maybe Saudis or Russians. At any rate, we stopped in the Renault dealership (boring, but I suppose I deserved it after all the museums I dragged everyone to). York was enchanted by the Renault Twizy which is an electric car that is resembles a four-wheeled motorcycle with a roof.
*I’m not going to put a picture of it here, obviously. But if you want to google it, be my guest. It’s called the Origin of the World by Courbet who is a very, very well-respected artist (whether he was a decent person or a misogynistic letch as so many artists tend to be is another question for another day). I think it’s interesting to think about whether this counts as pornographic or not. You can’t go to a museum without seeing a million and a half naked people. Excuse me, nude people. Very rarely are they sexual. But I would have to say that this picture is most definitely sexual. There’s nothing else to it. Really, take my word for it. Nothing else is happening. You can’t even see the woman’s face. Is sexuality automatically pornographic? Is it pornographic even if there is no sexuality? Is nudity a must for pornography? Kind of a large can of worms but it’s the sort of thing one thinks of in European museums. Especially when one has been raised in a religious culture where even the top two inches of a woman’s arm is seen as sexual (wait, it’s not sexual? Then why is it supposed to be covered up?)