Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Paris-on Foot, Bicycle, Metro, and Bateaux

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On Foot
If I could have one thing that I do not already have – and that isn’t much – I would want an invisibility cloak. Then, I could go around taking photos without being detected. I so badly wanted to photograph the Paris fashionistas who step, stroll, strut, totter, and sometimes stumble about in their amazing shoes. If I had my Harry Potter cloak, I would lurk near a Metro station, and then photograph them as they emerge and carefully make their way up the street. No way could these people be doing the kind of walking in Paris that Mark and I did. My feet and legs were killing me, even in my normal shoes. I saw women older than I (well, to me they looked older) walking gracefully on the uneven sidewalks in high heels, wearing short skirts or skinny jeans. I am in awe.

On Bicycle
Instead of walking or taking the Metro, some Parisians take advantage of Velib, the bicycle sharing system. I saw people pedaling around town, and decided to give it a try. Being an independent soul, often too doggedly independent for my own good, I chose to avoid the guided bicycle tour and strike out on my own. How hard could it be? The website said there were stations every 300 meters. It sounded so easy.
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There’s no booking. Just turn up and go! Go to terminal at a Vélib’ station. Follow on-screen instructions. Select a bike and enter bike number. Wait for the green light and signal and take your bike. The first 30 minutes of each trip are always free of charge. NEW: today, you can buy a ticket online; it’s easy, quick and secure!

Viola! I bought the one-day pass online which cost a mere 1.7 euros, and allowed me to use a number to get a bike without having to swipe my credit card each time. I could ride for 24 hours, and as long as I switched bikes every 30 minutes, that’s all I would pay. I struck out from my hotel to find a station, thereby making my first mistake, which was not going to the closest station, near my hotel.

My second mistake was assuming that, once I found the bike station, I would understand the directions. Instead, I found that the only part that is not in French is the line on the screen which asks you if you would like instructions in English. Unable to understand how to get a bike to release, I decided to call the Velib telephone number, which was an international call on my mobile phone. After three or four tries, with a phone call each time to the same guy who, although very nice, was difficult to communicate with, I finally got one of the bikes, which are heavy, “state of the art” monsters. By this time I was sweaty and frustrated, knowing that I had just spent $50 worth of minutes on my phone.

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The phone calls were my third mistake, but now I was heavily invested and unwilling to give up. I had 30 minutes in which to find another station and switch bikes, and I now realized that I had made a fourth, critical mistake. Choosing to avoid the crowds on Champs de Elysees, I was in a part of the city I had not already explored.

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Within three blocks I was in the middle of a busy roundabout, unsure of which way to go, with cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians everywhere, and no bike station in sight. The minutes were ticking by – it’s amazing how quickly you can burn up 30 minutes – and I decided to just head back to my original station. After all, if it was that hard to get the bike out, wouldn’t it also be hard to return it?

Turning around and backtracking was not as easy as it sounds. The streets of Paris are like the facets of a diamond, intricately connected. You are never far from where you want to be, but you cannot see it through the prism of the other streets. I was waiting for a red light, and a courier pulled up next to me on a motorbike. He smiled and said something in French, ending with a word that sounded like “trouble.”

“I speak English,” I said grumpily, which was my standard line when someone approached me. Inwardly I was thinking, “Yeah, you’re right, this is more trouble than it’s worth.” As he pulled away a moment later, it occurred to me that he actually said was “tres belle.”  He was flirting with me!

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I never did find the original station, so I turned toward the Arch de Triomphe and Hotel Elysees Bassano, knowing there was a station somewhere nearby, which I should have used in the first place. As a beautiful bridal couple posed for photos nearby, I jammed the bike into one of the empty posts, hot, sweaty, and praying for the green light to indicate the bike had been accepted. I went back to the hotel to reward myself with a glass of chardonnay, and to regroup.

That afternoon I walked to the Musee d’Orsay. Passing the bicycle stations, I was sorely tempted to give them another try, but I resisted. Instead, I made a mental note of the location of two stations, and on the walk back to my hotel later I had a carefully planned, successful ride. I just had to prove to myself that I could do it.

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Were I to do the Velib again, I would obviously do several things differently. But the truth is that, much as I hate to say it, as a tourist, I would not recommend the bike sharing. The main reason is that it wasn’t fun. There was too much traffic, too many intersections, the streets are bumpy, and there were people everywhere who came to a dead stop in front of me – taking photos, or talking, or texting on their mobiles, or lost like me.

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My experience was that you just cannot ride for pleasure and sightseeing in Paris. And, stations every 300 meters? Excuse moi. Not where I was riding. You have to know where they are hidden.

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The bikes look like they work well for Parisian locals who use them to ride between a Metro station and their place of work, or home. And I suppose they are fine for guided tours as well, although from what I saw it looked like the tours encounter a lot of people who are likely to step in front of them at any moment.

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On Metro
The next morning, prior to Mark’s arrival, I decided to finally activate my Metro ticket. It would have saved me a lot of steps, and a lot of leg pain, to have taken advantage of it sooner. But there were a couple of reasons why I didn’t. First, I was not destination-oriented; I wanted to walk so I could see all the sights.

Second, I didn’t want to spend my first days in Paris figuring out the metro. Sure enough, I went the wrong way on my first ride, which I quickly realized, no harm done. If I had spent more time in Paris I would have used the Metro much more, but it was crowded and I preferred walking, despite the pain and the rain.

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Mark and I were moving out of the luxury Sofitel Paris le Faubourgh and into a small hotel for the last two nights. We decided to take the Metro, but had trouble agreeing on which line and which station. Instead of going to the convenient Concorde station near the Sofitel and transferring, which was my now-expert opinion of what we should do - I knew exactly where it was - Mark wanted to walk several blocks to another station in the rain, dragging our luggage, so that we wouldn’t have to transfer.

The station he wanted to go to was a large two-in-one, and I felt that it would be even more confusing, once we even found it. Just between you and me, I think he was punishing me for bringing what was, in his opinion, too large a bag.

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I gave in, partly because I could use my new umbrella that says “Paris,” with has a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it. Also, because it was noon and we could stop for lunch in one of the little bistros.

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Lunch was lovely, and after that I was in a much better mood. For the record, the large, rambling underground station was confusing, we asked for directions twice, and I still think it would have been easier to just get on at Concorde and transfer. But it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

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When we emerged from the underground station – and by the way, not all of them have lifts, so we had to haul our bags up a lot of steps – we walked half way around the roundabout before realizing that our hotel was hidden in plain sight. The Hotel du Prony has the tiniest elevator ever; it can only fit one person with luggage, or two without, but we enjoyed our stay there. Five-star hotels are fine, but we liked the intimacy of chatting with the staff about culture and politics.

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We were in the Batignolles, a fashionable residential neighborhood just north of the Arc de Triomphe where Edouard Manet and his friends once made paintings of café life. It would have been the site of the Olympic Village, if Paris had hosted the 2012 Olympics instead of London. This relatively un-touristy area was the perfect place for us to unwind and do some low-key exploring, stopping in cafes and admiring the rose gardens.

There were two things I wanted to do in Paris with Mark. The first was to go to Montmartre, the highest hill in Paris, site of the Sacred Heart basilica, and a favorite haunt of artists including Dali, Modigliani, Picasso, Mondrian, and the Impressionists.

We started our walk to Montmartre by once again going in the wrong direction, not realizing it until we hit the ring road. This led to the kind of silent bickering that married people do, mentally tallying up reasons to blame the other person. Finally, we had to just blame the sun, for hiding behind the clouds and not telling us that we were going west, not east.

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Once we got going in the right direction, it was so obvious. The buildings were getting older and more quaint, not taller, squarer and newer. And we were going uphill. Soon we were crossing a bridge over the Montmartre Cemetery, the final resting place of many famous artists, scientists, musicians, performers, and writers. We would have liked to wander through, but instead continued on.

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There is a gondola ride on the south side from the bottom of the hill to the top, but we were approaching from the west so we walked all the way up, rounding a corner into the Place du Terte, a charming, albeit touristy spot where starving artists including Picasso and other modernist painters lived at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, artists set up in tiny spaces to paint, sell paintings, and draw portraits.
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The magnificent Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, or Sacred Heart, sits atop the hill, and we caught glimpses of its graceful domes around every corner.

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It was worth lingering outside on the steps, soaking up the sun, crowd-watching, and enjoying the fine, if somewhat hazy, view of Paris spreading out below. We entered the church just as mass was finishing, and as we were leaving a group of nuns entered, took seats behind the altar, and were lifting their voices in song.

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I was also hunting for a glimpse of one of the last two windmills that once ground grain, plaster, and grapes. We walked up and down some side streets and just as I was getting ready to give up we saw it, poking up through the buildings and trees.

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Mission accomplished, we walked downhill and through the red light district, past the Moulin Rouge (I might have to finally watch that movie) and then south toward the river.

On Bateaux
Paris (695)I had saved the boat ticket that came with my Paris Passport package so that we could do the bateaux ride on the Seine together. That was the other must-do with Mark.The bateaux route goes east upriver, passing the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Notre Dame Cathedral, around Ile de la Cite and Ile de Ste. Louis, the two islands upon which Paris was founded, then back downriver past the docks, turning around again past the Eiffel Tower before heading back upriver to the landing. We crossed under bridges at least 30 times. 

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I realized when we boarded that it was a very special Friday – the last day of school for the local children. A large group, with their exhausted looking teachers, was on the boat with us. The kids were dashing all around, and yelling and waving each time we crossed under a bridge. All along the route, people stopped to wave and cheer, which I think is probably a normal thing, every day.

And why not? Gliding along on the Seine, only seems appropriate to be celebrating just being in Paris.
Merci beau coups for reading!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Paris –Two Museums

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Many people think of the Louvre when they think of Paris – I do. I was warned by people who have been there, and by the Louvre website, that it could be overwhelming, and it’s best to choose only a portion, or to make several short visits over a few days. With a museum pass, this makes a lot of sense.

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My first visit to the Louvre museum was the same day that I arrived, and I decided to start with the Egyptian Antiquities. Mark went to Cairo on a business trip in May 2012, and when he came back to Abu Dhabi he said it was the best business trip ever. They had a driver who took them around, and he said the pyramids were amazing although, for some reason, he had imagined them even bigger than they were. We should take a trip to Egypt, he said.

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Since then, the economic and political situation in Egypt has deteriorated. A trip Egypt is not on the horizon for us right now, so the Egyptian collection was the next best thing. Looking at the serene expressions on the sculptures of the pharaohs, the resting mummies, the gold and jewels, and the weaponry, I thought of the country’s long history and hoped for a peaceful solution for the people of modern Egypt.

The next day, I returned to the Louvre after my visit to Notre Dame cathedral. It was time to search for the Mona Lisa. I headed to the Paintings collection, which covers European painting from the mid-13th century to the mid-19th century, divided into three large groups: French; Italian and Spanish; and Northern European – German, Dutch, and Flemish.

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I didn’t get the audio tour, preferring to just wander through the collection finding paintings that I recognized, and there were many. Way back in 1977, I took History of European Art at College of Marin in California – it was my first college class. The teacher’s name was Deborah Loft. She was young and pretty, had traveled all throughout Europe, and had slides that she talked about in great detail. I was fascinated, and knew I had to go Europe someday.

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It was a long time before I got the opportunity, and I have thought of that class and teacher many times over the past 36 years, especially in Italy and in Amsterdam, but never more than when I was in Paris. When I entered the hall and saw the familiar paintings in person, it felt like I was rediscovering old college friends.

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Of course room with the Mona Lisa was the most crowded. People were posing with the painting, or standing in front of it and trying to take a photo of themselves with their smart phone or iPad.

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An important part of my Louvre experience was outdoors, walking the grounds and gardens. The Cour Carre is the eastern entrance to the Old Louvre, built on the site of the original 12th century fort. On my way into the museum from Notre Dame cathedral, I walked through this lovely courtyard, which was completed by Louis XIV before he moved to Versailles. I think it’s one of those secret gems that are hidden in plain sight. It was peaceful and uncrowded.

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You walk through and emerge into the Cour Napoleon, where you are facing the pyramids. I have to admit that I don’t love the pyramids. You go through security at the entrance to the upper pyramid, then you take an escalator down where you buy your entrance ticket.

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I’m sure it’s now much easier to accommodate the large numbers of people that want to visit the Louvre, and it provides much needed natural light. However, to me the upper pyramid as seen from outside is incongruous with the palace. It disrupts the continuity of the courtyard, and it’s just too … modern. There, I said it.

Also, the pyramids seemed to make the space below hot. I was there on cool, cloudy, rainy days and I could feel the sun beating through the panes of glass. I wonder, what is it like in the heat of summer?

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In addition to the large pyramid above ground, there are two smaller pyramids that shed light into the galleries, and an inverted pyramid which extends into the basement, where there is a shopping mall. I wandered down there, and it reminded me of some of the malls in the Middle East. Too slick and gimmicky for the Louvre. I will admit, however, that I did patronize the Starbucks that I found down there. I was in the mood for a Skinny Frappuccino.

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The Tuileries Gardens were lovely, filled with iris and other spring blooms. I can imagine the inspiration that painters have found there. The garden was originally commissioned in the 16th century by Catherine de Medicis, the widow of King Henry II, and is named for the tuileries, or workshops that built roof tiles, that once occupied the area.

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The first day, people who looked like teachers were setting up an outdoor installation of little sculptures made of wood and other odds and ends, painted with what looked like poster paint. People were stopping to take photos and I assumed, without even asking, that they were made by school children. When I returned the next day, it was all gone.

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With all the walking I was doing, my legs were starting to give out. I bicycle and I stand-up paddle, but I wasn’t used to that much walking and my leg muscles were getting really stiff and sore. It was a big relief to find a chair, lean back, relax, and contemplate the pond. From there, I could see the Louvre and Arc de Carousel to the east …

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… with the Obelisk and Arc de Triomphe behind me.

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The next day, Tuesday, the Louvre was closed, so I decided to go to the Musee d’Orsay, which has a large collection of my favorite paintings – the Impressionists of 1860 to 1900. The museum is a converted railway station built in 1900, closed in 1979, and opened as a museum in 1986.

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I walked from the Elysee Bassano Hotel to the museum, which is across the river from the Louvre, on the Left Bank of the Seine with views across the river, including through the large clock.

Orsay Pierre-Auguste_Renoir,_Le_Moulin_de_la_Galette

No photos of the paintings were allowed, but this time I did spring for the audio tour so I could hear the stories of the artists and their critics – many of which I already knew, but never tire of. What can I say, I adore the Impressionists – Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cassatt, Degas, – and the Post Impressionists – Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Seurat.


I try to capture an Impressionist feel in my own paintings.


The Orsay also has an Art Nouveau collection which includes objects from Europe, Scandinavia, Britain, and America. I had a bit of an infatuation with Art Nouveau and the more modern Art Deco styles during the 1980’s, when I was making architectural stained glass windows. The flowing Nouveau and angular Deco lines worked well for stained glass.

Anne Stained Glass 1982

When I get back to visit our home in Nevada next month, I’ll dig out the photos of my stained glass, and scan them into an album. Meanwhile, this is me circa 1982, with my collection, which I took to art fairs to sell pieces and get commissions. I usually got a call that resulted in a commission after exhibiting at a fair.

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On Wednesday I finished up the Louvre with a third visit, this time in the morning. Mark would be arriving later that afternoon, and he had made it clear that he wanted to relax, and stay away from the museums and crowds. This was fine with me because by now my leg muscles felt like rubber bands, stretched to the breaking point. Ouch! On the way to the Louvre palace, I lingered once again in the Tuileries, looking at the statues. My goal for the day was to see the new Islamic art collection, as well as some sculpture.

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Having had the opportunity to view Greek sculpture in Greece, and Italian sculpture in Italy, I concentrated on the French sculptures featuring the gods and goddesses of mythology, which are very large and dramatic. Sculpture amazes me with its sheer mass, and how an artist can create something so detailed out of a chunk of stone.

The Louvre is currently exhibiting throughout the museum, from April 25 until September 2, 2013, the work of an Italian artist named Michelangelo Pistoletto. The website explains:
Titled Year 1: Earthly Paradise, the exhibition marks the transition into the new era of human, social, and cultural metamorphosis that was celebrated all over the world, including on the esplanade of the Louvre's Cour Napoléon, on December 21, 2012.
This was the date when the Mayan calendar ended, and some people supposed that the world would come to an end. I wasn’t aware of the metamorphosis or the big celebrations, but I do remember some people making fun of the thing on Facebook.

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The exhibition embodies three different time frames: the past, in the context of a retrospective; the present seen in the mirror works reflecting the visitors; and the future in a great obelisk topped with a triple loop, a symbol of this ongoing revolution. Thus the sign of the "third paradise" adorns the pyramid.

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I admit that I take these New Age concepts and treat them with some tongue-in-cheek humor. I didn’t get much of a spiritual vibe from the Pistoletto pieces that were scattered throughout the museum. Yet whenever I came to one of his mirror pieces, I found myself compelled to make it into an opportunity to photograph myself as part of the piece, in the context of the Louvre. So, in that way, I suppose the artist succeeded in bringing me into his realm. It made for some interesting photos, as you will see in the album – they look photo shopped, but they are not.
Spirituality, figuration, the breaking down of boundaries between the arts, social solidarity, and the merging of life and art: these are the themes permeating the thinking of Michelangelo Pistoletto, the founder of Cittadellarte.

Finally, I found my way into the Islamic Art collection, which opened on September 22, 2012. Of course it’s of interest to me because, living in Abu Dhabi, I have been learning about Islamic art and culture for the past two years.

There was a sign at the ticket counter showing the Louvre Abu Dhabi, under construction in the Saadiyat cultural district of Abu Dhabi. I went with friends to the Birth of a Museum exhibit in April, where we saw some of the collection and viewed a computer generated video tour of what the museum will be like after construction is complete.

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The museum building, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, is situated at the edge of Saadiyat Island where the sand meets the sea, and is covered by a large dome that provides cooling shade during the day and provides a sparkling light show at night. Water, air and light are integral parts of the concept.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open in 2015. Mark and I will be enjoying life back in the USA long before that, inshallah. But who knows, perhaps he will be called back to consult from time to time, and I will find myself in Abu Dhabi with the opportunity to visit the museum after it opens. If there is one thing I have learned in the past few years, it’s that you can imagine anything and, sometimes, it actually happens.

As always, thanks for reading.

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