Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Paris Weekend: A Beautiful Friday

Clockwise from top left: "Portrait of Queen Mary Tudor" (unknown artist, c. 1514); me and a mirror manufactured in 1700 by the still-active French company Saint-Gobain; bronze "aquamanile à l'oiseau fantastique" c. 1150, found in the Meuse Valley in Belgium; one of a series of window panels illustrating the life of St. Paul, Leyden, 1543.

Speaking of The Tudors, the fourth season isn't going to be broadcast, so it's a good thing Seb downloaded it for me. I'll watch it at some point soon, when I'm not so busy. Since that was what had been occupying my Saturday evenings for a few months, I was free to take the weekend to go to Paris a few days ago and do other things on a Saturday night. Also Saturday the 17th was the Feast of St. Elizabeth, and that obviously called for a celebration.

There are always a hundred art exhibits going on in Paris at any given time, and I had a few picked out to visit, starting with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and their trompe-l’oeil exhibit, mais l'exposition m'a trompé un peu and it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. I was expecting a lot more in the way of visual effects, but most of it was fairly mundane, like linoleum painted to look like marble mosaic, or hats trimmed with fake flowers. However, I did like this set of four paintings that seem to be marble carvings (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the artist's name/era).

Since I had much more time than I'd thought, having zipped through the exhibit, I decided to check out the rest of the museum, though I didn't pay extra to see the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry display or the Star Wars collectible toys. Instead, I wandered around the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and paid a longer visit to the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who surrounded himself with beauty.

Marquetry cabinet from 1670 built of fir, linden, and walnut, inlaid with boxwood, yew, pear wood, sycamore, and bone.

There were many icons and religious paintings spanning several hundred years, as well as tapestries and carvings for churches and homes, but I did not find any representations of Saint Elizabeth, much to my regret, though having died at the age of 24 perhaps she didn't accomplish enough to merit immortalization in art. On the other hand, she was Hungarian, and perhaps if/when I visit museums in Budapest I'll find her there.

I did find a very large and very ominous painting attributed to the 15th-century Italian painter Vicino da Ferrara of the Crucifixion, with a crying St. John on the right, a sobbing Mary Magdalene kneeling and clutching the foot of the cross, and a distraught Virgin Mary on the left, plus a Halloween-worthy detail at the bottom, a bloody and vermin-infested skull. In another room you could see a scene from the evening before (according to Luke 22:48), done a few years later by Belgian artist Adriaen van Overbeke, featuring a rather astonishing set of buttocks on Judas.

It was getting late and I was scheduled to meet some distant relatives for dinner, John Wilson and his wife Anne, who are both living in Paris and teaching English. John is the son of a cousin (or maybe it's a second cousin) of my grandfather Farquhar, and like him was born in Buckie, Scotland. I was to meet him at the Rome metro station at 6pm and needed to get over to the Invalides metro station to catch the right line, so I headed out down the Rue de Rivoli to the Jardin des Tuileries and then down across the Seine. The annual Christmas Fair was just getting started at the Place de la Concorde and I thought about going up in the Ferris wheel, but with the fog coming in (actually it never really went away all weekend) I didn't think I'd see much. And I'm not all that fond of heights, especially when in a swaying, swinging seat.

John and Anne live in the area of Paris called Les Batignolles, in the 17th arrondissement, a densely residential section with lots of artists and cafes. We passed a studio on the way to the flat, and hundreds of motorcycles parked on both sides of many of the streets. There isn't a lot of room for cars, either parking or driving, in this narrow-laned part of the city, and two wheels appeared to be more popular than four. John and Anne live on one of the crisscrossing side streets, several floors up a worn wooden staircase; after a cup of tea (they are from the British Isles after all) and some conversation we went back down the stairs to find a place to eat.

We ended up at Le Village, a small place on the Rue des Moines that has a huge selection of wines, and jazz concerts every few weeks, and a "literary brunch" at the end of each month. The menu is hand-written on a chalkboard (as many are in France), the tables are small but the chairs are comfortable, and the chef/owner Renée and sommelier/owner (didn't get his name) are warm and welcoming and funny and French.

When I explained that I needed to avoid wheat and dairy, they not only made sure I knew which dishes to select, but Renée also made me special versions of the side dishes to eliminate the cream and butter. I didn't have any of the bread that sat on the sideboard ready to be sliced; actually none of us did, because (horror of French horrors!) they forgot to bring it to the table.

Anne and I had a cup of vegetable soup to start, and chose the pintade (guineafowl) as a main course, served with sautéed gingered pear slices and a side of dairy-free mashed celery root and potatoes. Monsieur recommended a glass of 2008 Domaine de La Clapière "Gatefer" which was nicely dry and quite good, but it was too dry for Anne, who went with a Chinon instead; John had a glass of white wine with his poached cabillaud (cod), and a molten chocolate pudding for afters. We sat and talked for several hours and I was surprised to find that it was well after 11pm when we left the restaurant - I don't normally stay up that late! But I was having such a good time talking and laughing, and making plans for a trip to Glasgow next month. Their daughter Mhairi (pronounced VAH-ree) is getting married (mhairied?) on the 29th and I have been invited to the wedding, and I am going. I just made my reservations yesterday: train to Paris, KLM flight via Amsterdam to Glasgow, nine nights at a youth hostel and probably a trip to Edinburgh for the New Year's (Hogmanay) blowout and street party and fireworks. At the wedding there will be dancing, and bagpipes, and men wearing kilts, and a "cheese cake" - a cake-shaped arrangement of cheeses made on the nearby Isle of Mull - and probably several even-more-distantly-related people, so I couldn't say no.

John and Anne walked me to the metro station, and I went back to the hostel on the other side of town. I stayed at St. Christopher's Inn and like their Paris location even more than the one in London. They're clean, inexpensive (relatively), and filled with friendly people, most of whom are half my age. But the bed in the 12-person female-only dorm was comfortable and mostly quiet, and the free coffee in the morning, while nothing to rave about, did get me going for another day of discoveries in the streets of Paris.

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