Sunday, November 25, 2012

Paris Weekend 2: A Foggy Saturday

I rode the metro a lot last weekend in Paris; while the city (at least the inner part) isn't really all that huge, it's often more convenient to hop on the subway than try to figure out which direction the streets are heading, because they're always heading in odd directions, and without a reliable guide like the sun to help in orientation, it's easy to get lost and turned around. At least that's what happens to me. I got lost a lot that weekend while walking around, and it was foggy all the time, so I took the metro whenever possible. Sometimes the rumbling of the wheels on the tracks had a humming buzz to it that reminded me of a digeridoo, and that reminded me of Morgan, which made me wish he were there with me.

Saturday I started out by visiting the organic market near John and Anne's flat; they'd told me it was a good one, and one of only a few marchés bio in Paris. I had a day of sightseeing ahead, so I did not buy any fruits or vegetables (or squid), and though I had hoped for some breakfast, it was all full of wheat and/or dairy, so I ended up eating a few small sausages from the rôtisserie at the southeast (west? north? who knows) corner of the market and feasting my eyes on the displays instead.

I'm not the only person who corrects errors on random street posters.

The second art exhibit I'd planned for the weekend is at the Musée Jacquemart-André through January 21, 2013 and features the works of Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, along with other members of the 18th-century Vedutisti, painters who took Venice as their subject. The Infinite Art Tournament introduced me to Canaletto, and I wanted a closer look at his intricate work. The museum itself is worth a look; it was completed in 1875 as a private home (read: mansion) at the direction of Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, his wife and an artist in her own right. They started collecting artwork from all over Europe using his family fortune and her discerning eye, and opened their home to specially-invited members of the public in 1876, giving balls and sponsoring exhibitions over the next thirty years, when they weren't off traveling to collect more art. The main rooms alone are works of art, painted and gilded up to and over their high ceilings. You can look at pictures of the museum here, but since cameras were forbidden inside I couldn't take any myself.

Detail, detail, detail! On one painting by Luca Carlevarjis titled (in French anyway) "La Place Saint-Marc Vers le Sud" the painted square was filled with hundreds of painted people, and I swear in the middle of the square there are two dogs getting it on. That is the kind of detail I didn't expect. Canaletto's works invited closer inspection, right down to the hair-fine detail that I had a hard time imagining could be done with a paintbrush. The pen and ink studies were also amazingly intricate. You can see an image of "La Libreria, le campanile et la Piazzetta vus de l’est" on the museum's website. I also liked Bernardo Bellotto's "La Tour de Malghera" (here's a photo taken at another exhibition).

My friend L. had come to Paris to spend the day with me, and dutifully went around looking at the artwork, even though - as he explained afterwards - his eyes don't see things in the same way. Colors aren't what I see, and apparently dimensions aren't either, so I'm not sure what he got out of the exhibit. Or out of spending the day with me; we are/were in a strange place, he and I, in terms of our relationship. 23 years ago I was an au pair in a small town on Lake Annecy, east of here near the Swiss-Italian border, and towards the end of my time there I met L., who'd come down on his motorcycle to camp by the lake. We had a short but intense affair, but he wanted to get serious and settle down and I did not. So I went back to the United States, and when he visited less than a year later I was less than completely welcoming and thoroughly platonic. However, we kept in touch via phone and letter over the next decade, both still feeling emotional and always what-iffy, though I didn't make it back to France and he didn't come back to the States. He eventually got married and now has two boys, but things got complicated back in 2007 when I came over here for a visit, and we both realized that while 20 years made a huge difference we still had unresolved feelings. One of the reasons I asked him to join me in Paris was so that we could talk about it, and yes, you may now scold me, Kate and Mom. And anyone else who thinks it's a bad idea to ask someone you maybe loved and maybe still do whether there would be a chance of a future together, at some future time after children were no longer in the equation. Being part of a divorce myself, I don't want to put other kids through that.

But when I saw L. again, it took about an hour to really realize that it was him there with me - part of that was a change in hairstyle, part in a lack of any immediate emotional impact. And then I realized that in many ways he hasn't changed very much, which is and is not good for any of us, really, as some things are just fine the way they are. On the other hand, he still has a ... a grey spirit, is the only thing I can think of. He doesn't expect or look for happiness. He loves his family but seems more to think about responsibility. Of course, this is often the usual result of having to work long hours, keep kids at their homework, deal with upkeep of a home and garden, and handle all the requirements of leading a life that involves kids and homes and gardens and jobs. But he was like that twenty years ago, too. His favorite group was The Cure; when I just looked them up on Wikipedia I got this quote from one of the band members: "Nihilism took over [...] We sang 'It doesn't matter if we all die' and that is exactly what we thought at the time." And that is exactly my impression of L., then and now. After we finally got into the conversational swing, things were easier, and I think we're comfortable friends now, but there will be nothing more. It was a strange parting, though, and an emotional one, in a repressed sort of way, and I'm still not sure that nothing will ever come of this in the distant future, but I am no longer foggy in my own feelings, and hope L. does not have a conflicted heart either at this point.

Be that as it may, we did have a nice day together, though I found myself talking more than usual in an effort to keep things - light? happy? frivolous? - not as grey as the foggy day around us. Le brouillard. And it was chilly, too, so I was glad we stumbled upon Bio Sphère Café, an organic and gluten-free establishment conveniently close to the museum. I had a buckwheat crêpe with pumpkin, egg, and leek, and L. had one with smoked salmon, and we both had gluten-free treats and tea for dessert.

After lunch, we started walking towards the Seine; while it's easy to get lost in Paris, at some point (at least if you're heading mostly towards the south and west) you'll run into the river, which provides a constant landmark. And of course there's the Eiffel Tower, visible most days, but not so much last weekend. My new-ish hiking shoes were giving me problems, unfortunately - the left shoe doesn't fit quite right on my left foot, which is a different size due to the incident back in 1999 or so when I fell off a horse and broke both bones in my leg, right above the ankle. My foot's slightly twisted, and slightly smaller, and it's hard to find a pair of shoes that work for both sides. Evidently I need to look for another set of insoles, because I developed a nasty blister on the left, and what I believe is a subungual hematoma on my big toe, something that "typically heals without incident" according to my research, so I haven't gone to the doctor for it yet. If my toenail starts to fall off I probably will go to see her, and right away, too. However, even with the blister and the painful toe, I did make it to the Champs de Mars before I had to sit down again.

The United Buddy Bears were spending their last weekend in Paris, and we walked past all of the countries represented, though since the country names were in French they didn't come in the order my brain assumed. For example, Germany (Allemagne) comes before Australia (Australie). Some of the painted bears were very creative, while others used pretty stereotypical representations - the Irish bear was dressed as a leprechaun. I liked Hungary's bear (bottom left, in red), but wasn't sure what the wispy floating cloud people were supposed to signify. Looking up that particular bear, I now find that the artist Sala Lieber created them to celebrate "the significance of the Hungarian family and its cohesion ... [the] floating masses are the daily life." Hungary is looking more and more interesting all the time.

The bear from China says "I will eat you up, and your economies too!"

It was getting dark, so there wasn't time for a carriage ride, but since they were charging something like 100 euros ($125 dollars or so) for a one-hour ride, it wasn't that appealing anyway. But I did take a picture for Leah, because every time I see a horse, I think of her, and wish she was here with me too. L. drove me back to the youth hostel to save me the walk, but given that it was rush hour on a Saturday evening and the crazy Paris drivers were even crazier, and pedestrians were ignoring all signs, and bus drivers were honking and blocking intersections, I could have taken the metro there and back and there again in the time it took to drive. But I appreciated not having to walk any more. We kissed goodbye, both cheeks in the French fashion and once on the lips as a farewell on my part, and he drove back to Amiens, and I went to find something to eat.

I asked the young woman at the front desk of the youth hostel if there was a good place to eat nearby, and she recommended some place called La Rotonde, and even gave me a 10% off coupon, but I assumed that any place that was (a) close to a youth hostel and (b) catering to that crowd was probably full of wheat, dairy, and lots of alcohol, so I set off in the other direction where I'd seen some Asian restaurants of various sorts. However, now that I've looked at the menu, I'll probably check it out the next time I spend time in Paris, because I'll undoubtedly be back at St. Christopher's.

But I had dinner at a little place just outside the metro stop, Restaurant Chamrouen Crimée, with Vietnamese and Chinese specialties, and roasted ducks in the steamy windows. I had duck with rice vermicelli noodles in a tasty rich broth that was infinitely satisfying after a day spent in the fog.

No comments:

Post a Comment