Art in Paris

I went to the Pompidou Center, an amazing (and huge!) modern art museum. I checked in my backpack, which felt amazing, and went exploring. I tend to visit museums like I’m on a treasure hunt. I go pretty quickly, waiting for something that will catch me, and hoping to discover something new that will change my world. It’s remarkably successful 🙂
This time I discovered Simon HantaĂŻ. They had a whole special exhibit on him, which was massive. It was chronologically ordered, so his early work was first… I was initially unimpressed. Vaguely surrealist, not particularly interesting.
Then he started using little animal skulls, and I perked up a little, but it still wasn’t earth-shaking.
Then he did a bunch of repetitive-patterned large-scale paintings created over long periods of time. These weren’t great to look at, but some of his process started to interest me. There was this one massive pair of paintings (each about 10-15′ square) being exhibited side-by-side for the first time ever… he had created them both at the same time over a period of months, but one he worked on every morning and the other he worked on every evening. They were somewhat interesting.
Then I turned a corner, and… wow. He had made this total break with his existing process (in the late 60s I think?) and started crumpling up and knotting these massive canvases, and only painting the parts he could see. Then he’d open them up and restretch them. It sounds boring, but it was… amazing. They’re huge, and the colors are incredible, and they maintain some of the crumpled texture so they aren’t flat, and they just sort of… explode off the wall. They look natural, and organic, but also dramatic and very very aesthetically conscious. Some are like looking into a wall of jungle with dappled sunlight between the leaves, some look like sunshine on water, some look like cloudscapes…. in all cases there’s a nagging sense that something has been captured and illuminated, and you just need to look a little bit longer, and the sun will break through and you’ll be able see through the leaves/water/clouds to what’s on the other side. It’s intense.
I didn’t even keep going for awhile. I picked this one painting and sat down in front of it and I think I may have said out loud “You. Hi. We’re going to be friends.” I must have stayed there for close to half an hour, before I finally stood up, shook myself off, and kept going. The rest of his work was equally fascinating, but I didn’t linger as long with any of it. There was a little room that was showing video footage of him working, and I was interested in that but it was so crowded I couldn’t get in. I went through the rest of the exhibit, and then strolled through a big Lichtenstein exhibit they were having. Then I went back to visit my painting friend again, and stayed about fifteen minutes, then went through the rest of the exhibit a second time. There had just been some sort of medical emergency, so most of it had been closed and they were only just reopening it — brilliant, because it meant it was completely empty! I got to be the first one in the video room, so I watched footage of the artist for awhile. It was AWESOME. He’d knot and paint and re-knot and paint, for ages, then he’d flatten them out with this big concrete roller, and then he’d spread them out — lots of them — in his garden/orchard and let them dry in the sun. His darling little blond daughter would run across them as she was picking flowers. It was positively idyllic.
After I finished my second trip through his exhibit I went through part of the next floor down, but at that point I was so exhausted that I couldn’t think straight. I found an outdoor sculpture garden with a reflecting pool up near the roof, so I went and laid down on the concrete in the sun next to the pool for about an hour or so. I dozed a little, and read a little, and looked out over the city. After that I felt so much better that I was able to finish the museum, which had some really great stuff and was arranged beautifully.
Then I went and met the girl who checked me in to the apartment where I was staying. She was so sweet and pleasant! The apartment was great — on the top (6th) floor of an old building just down the street from the Hotel de Ville in the center of town. It was small but cozy (although the elevator was SO small that the other girl and I were practically cuddling), with a skylight over the bed that opened. It was a bit stuffy but when I opened the big front window and the skylight it got a lovely breeze.
The girl who checked me in also walked me to the nearest grocery store, where I bought cheese and wine to go with my bread. It was passable but unexciting — certainly not a cheese shop. Then I went back, relaxed, fell asleep, and woke up early to catch a train to my next stop: Edinburgh!



So first I have to say that I had like five blog posts written and was just waiting for WiFi to post them, but Google decided that since someone was logging into my account from random places all over Europe it must have been hacked, so they locked it. When I got it unlocked all my unpublished blog posts were gone. Curses!
On the other hand, that’s the only bad thing that’s happened to me on this trip, so I can’t really complain.
Anyway, Paris!
I barely caught the bus, but I did. Naturally I ended up sitting next to the weird dude, but whatever, that’s why the good lord gave us headphones… then I took a ten-hour bus ride (my bus rode a ferry!) napped a little, read a lot, and arrived in Paris at 7:30am.
Now, here’s the thing about cheap buses (Megabus exists in Europe, too, so that’s what I took)…
If you take a plane, you land at an airport, with transit connections, info booths, currency exchanges, kiosks, waiting areas, WiFi, duty free shops, and in the US, invariably the damn Hudson News (which I hate with an unreasonable passion).
If you take a train, you come in to a train station, most likely a main one, with mostly the same stuff.
If you take a bus… you wind up at a shitty little bus depot, typically on the outskirts of town, pretty much always in a seedy area. It might have a kiosk, but it will probably be closed at whatever bizarre hour you arrive… the ticket counter might have a surly person who will answer a question or two, but then again there might not even be a ticket counter, just a few automated machines. If you’re really lucky, there might be an indoor waiting area and maybe even toilets, but don’t count on it. Even if these things exist, the toilets will be filthy and all the seats in the waiting area will already be claimed by people who have been waiting much, much longer than you, and who will go on waiting indefinitely (it’s entirely possible that they might actually live there). Just sit yourself down on the floor, sister, and keep your mouth shut. If you’re extra-fortunate, you might find a bit of cleanish floor in a corner where you can lean up against a wall, but don’t count on it.
I’m not a huge fan of bus travel, can you tell?
Our poor UK bus driver, in a giant coach with the steering on the right, got lost on the way into the city, so we had some exciting moments driving through tiny windy streets and over curbs, but eventually we got there. Then I eventually found the nearest subway station, and bought a street map, and I was off!
First I bought a pain au chocolat and went to the Arc du Triomphe, planning to sit up on top in the middle of that massive traffic circle and watch the madness. Turn out the top doesn’t open until 10am, though, so I sat underneath instead — still fun. It was just me and about ten thousand Japanese tourists.
Brendan sent me this article on how Japanese tourists in Paris tend to lose their minds (like in a legit psychological disturbance/psychotic break sort of way), because Paris is so revered as a cultural center in Japan. I can’t speak to that, but there are SO MANY Japanese tourists there! So many. Crazy.
So yeah, I bought a PASTRY at a SUBWAY STATION and it was the best I’ve ever had. Flaky, buttery, soft, delicious… You definitely win at pastry, Paris.
Then I went to a random park and found some free WiFi, and resisted a very strong urge to take a nap on the grass (part of the reason for the overnight bus trip from London was to save on the cost of a hotel AND spend less than I would for the train, and just sleep on the bus… which sounds great in theory but I didn’t sleep much at all).
Then I made my pilgrimage to the original Poilâne bakery, which, oh my god, BREAD! It was AMAZING. They wouldn’t let me see the ovens but it was still amazing. I bought a bunch of bread, and then headed to Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame to look at some stained glass etc.
My main takeaway from pretty much every tourist sight I visited (Arc du Triomphe, Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre…) was this: Very pretty, very crowded, very impersonal. And this on a Monday morning, too! Notre Dame is smaller than I expected, but interesting based on age if nothing else.
Anyway, after visiting Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame I went to Montmartre and visited Sacre Coeur. Most of Paris is pretty flat, but that area is very hilly. When I came out of the metrĂł there were about a million signs warning tourists to take the funicular up to Sacre Coeur, because it was so steep/so many steps/you would probably die/what are you thinking/take the damn streetcar! So I figured I’d better, since it was really hot and I had my 20lb pack with me… so I stood in this massive line for ages, and finally got up near the front and turned the corner, and SAW the funicular I was waiting for and the million steps I was avoiding… and started laughing. I mean, yeah, it was pretty steep, but it was so short! To a Seattle person… it was like the worst 2-3 blocks of Denny. That’s it. Ha! I was so close to the front at that point that I still rode the funicular, but it was hilarious. I walked down.
Everything I’d been told about the view from the steps in front of Sacre Coeur was true, though. That view is spectacular. I even saw the Eiffel Tower (though it took me much longer than it should have to figure out what it was).
Then I walked down and had lunch at a cafe in Montmartre. Paris absolutely wins at food, my god. SO good. I had a croque madame on baguette with a perfect little salad and exquisite dressing, and a glass of sauvignon blanc. Delicious, and fairly inexpensive too.
Then I made my way back to the city center, and still had over four hours to kill before I could check in to my apartment, when the girl with the key got off work. I was feeling a bit wrung out — lack of sleep, carrying my pack around in the sun all day, no dinner the night before, and I was fighting an ear infection — so I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Obviously I chose art!
More on that later…