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Sundays are my free day, to thwack around Paris and do the tourist thing. Today I trekked down to the Musée d’Orsay, on the Left Bank, just past the Louvre. It was quite cold, so I took the Métro to the Concorde stop: this brought me back above ground just at the Place de la Concorde. Here, in the middle of what is likely a very busy roundabout on a weekday, the French have a column they ‘liberated’ from Luxor, Egypt. What a thing to see in the middle of this city – not that I’m not becoming used to seeing odd, monumental objects looming up out of nowhere – but this obelisk was meant to be surrounded by sand and sun, not a million little crazily-driven cars and crowds of tourists. Or snowflakes, as happened later this afternoon! The carving of the hieroglyphs is still very deep, after all these years, and it made me wonder what, if anything, the French government does to preserve outdoor monuments like this one.

Then I nipped across the bridge, and turned left to the Orsay. In its first incarnation, the Orsay was a train station, similar in appearance (I expect) to the Gare du Nord where I caught the Thalys to Holland. These stations were built, as least as far as the international high-speed service is concerned, rather like garages: the trains pull into the station, which is the terminus of the line, and you walk all the way down the train to your car, at first underneath the high glass roof, then under the open air (because they have NO doors here keeping out the outside). The Orsay also has the high glass roof, as well as lots of steel beams; the interior became a museum many years ago, and is reserved for art from after 1840 or so.

I purchased the audio tour, which I sometimes like to do, as you can learn something about the art you’re looking at. Mat and I got the tour when we went through the Mauritshaus in Den Haag, and it was really quite interesting. The Orsay tour was quite interesting as well, although it was a bit proscriptive, in that the disembodied voice suggested you visit the museum chronologically, starting at the bottom floor. And there was this unspoken assumption that of course you would listen to all the items in order. Which I totally can’t do, because in actual fact, although I enjoy art, there’s only so much I can take at any one go.

I was very diligent through the first floor; I listened to a good deal of the commentary, and heard a lot about the various Exhibitions from which artists were either excluded, which made their reputation, or included, which also made their reputation. There were some lovely pictures and sculptures down here, but the real highlight of the collection is the Impressionist galleries on the top floor. Here I saw some Monet, some Manet, some Renoir, some Van Gogh – and I was lucky enough to see something I liked in nearly every room. But, as usual, by then the museum was getting very crowded. And of course, by the time I got to the top floor, I was getting cranky, so I had to push through the crowd to get to the cafeteria to get something to eat; then I had to push my way back to the beginning of the floor. So once I had finished the top floor of the Orsay (which took me up to Gaugin) I was pretty much finished with art for the day. I worked my way back to the front, and did see a delightful sculpture of a polar bear. Sometimes when you see a piece of art, you appreciate it because you can see how much work went into its creation – the layers of paint, or the composition of straight lines and curves – and sometimes you appreciate it because you look at the artwork and can see that it is what it is: it shows “the thing and the whole of the thing.” And that’s what the polar bear sculpture was like: it was exactly like a polar bear, but at the same time it was a beautifully-done sculpture of a polar bear. Very cool.

After viewing the art, I always like to hit the museum store. I don’t know why I like the store almost as well as the museum –maybe it’s because there’s no way I can afford to buy anything that the museum has, but I can afford to buy reasonably-priced reproductions of things the museum has. Unfortunately, while the prints of the Renoir and Van Gogh pieces I liked were reasonably priced, they really were nothing like the actual painting. I guess that must be a difference of technique between Rigaut, who painted my favourite portrait of Louis XIV, and these later guys. What I thought would have been really cool for them to have would have been a key ring of the polar bear sculpture. Alas, the museum buyers didn’t feel the same way: they had a black bear sculpture by the same artist in key-ring format, but no polar bear.

Then I ambled through the Tuilleries gardens, wishing desperately that I had brought a hat to France, because it was quite cold. My next stop was WH Smith (I’m starting to look for something to read on the way home), but I still can’t bring myself to pay a minimum of 11 euros for a book that’s $11.99 at home. So, no book – and in frustration at the prices and the temperatures, I retreated back to my apartment, had a nap, and tried to warm up. Only one more Sunday here in Paris – shall I try to make it to the Arc de Triomphe, or to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre?

A bientôt!

Sacre Coeur!

Date: 2005-02-21 01:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I vote for Sacre Coeur!

-Teresa

Snow in Paris!

Date: 2005-02-23 03:49 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hi Anita - just thought you might like to know that CBC was talking about all the snow in Paris this morning and how it caused major traffic jams and delayed flights! Hope you're managing to keep warm and dry! See you soon - Anna

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