Cultural Weekend in Paris

My better half asked “Can we go to Paris?” “urm – yes – let me see if I can get some time off.” My boss says “Go – relax, enjoy yourself. It’s important to get new inspiration.”

A few clicks and googles later (Thank you and – off we went for four nights in Montmartre, Paris.

The Eiffel tower blinking while lit up in EU blue  Umbrellas outside the Louvre in Paris

Paris was beautiful, even in the rain. The Eiffel tower was lit up in European Union blue, with gold stars. We were surprised when it started sparkling for us – an effervescence of light. A beautiful bride and groom standing next to us on the sidewalk having their picture taken were ecstatic.

We slogged up the hill from the hotel to the Sacre Coeur to take in the view, and to wonder at what the large buildings scattered around Paris were supposed to be.

We had a packed program: Friday wandering around Paris – walking along the Seine, visiting the Notre Dame.

PA300022 Abstract art in the Tuilerie garden

A flock of tourists on segways passed us at the Place de Concorde, on our way to the Tuileries. The classical statues (like Caesar or nymphs) fit in with the style of the garden, but the more modern pieces (like the one above “Gesture of Friendship” (I think) commissioned by the Minister of Culture) are a bit more challenging to get to grips with.

Saturday at the Louvre

Crowds gawking at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre  Lots of art at the Louvre

Ten hours of walking around, gawking at artwork. Getting out for some fresh air and storming around the sculptures in the Richelieu wing. It’s overwhelming – the amount of beauty, wonder and horror that hangs on the wall.

We had the entire day to wander around – we made a meal of the south Denon wing where Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo live. After the number of crucifixions and halo’ed angels I’ve seen, I should have been converted to a devout Christian – but I remain Christian in name only.

We even made it to the norwegian corner – up in the corner on the top floor of the Richelieu wing – we found Peder Balke‘s paintings of norwegian landscapes. A pleasant meeting – something small and familar amid all the large scale art that hangs in the Louvre.

 Peder Balke and tourist  More Art in the Louvre

The wikipedia and an internet enabled phone is very useful when you come across a particularly interesting piece of artwork. My french got a refresher as I tried to decipher the little plaques next to the artwork. Next to the “Raft of the Medusa” was an explanation of the history behind the painting. Knowing the story and intention behind the painting makes it even more gripping and interesting.

Liberty Leading the People - Delacroix  The Louvre main entrance 

We made a trip to the Arc de Triomphe – I thought this would be boring, but I was pleasantly surprised by the view and the museum inside the Arc itself.

It’s bigger than it looks.

Champs Elysees at night from the top of the Arc de Triomphe It's only a model

We arrived just as the ceremony for the kindling of the flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier was winding down. Up on top it was windy and cold, and I was afraid my mobile would slip from my stiff fingers and take a tumble down into the traffic below.

Dinner at a small brasserie near the hotel – after trekking around the far end of the Champs Elysees looking for a good french restaurant. It was getting late, so we were grateful to sit inside and get a hot meal. I misunderstood the menu, and ended up with a pair of suspicious (but delicious) sausages.

Sunday at the Orsay

(first sunday of the month – so we got in free!). The line to get in was long as we showed up at 11 am – but it moved along at a generous pace, so we didn’t have time to get bored.

Inside the Orsay was yet more art. A special exhibit on impressionists and pastel art that turned out to be quite educational. Fay wanted to go see an exhibit on Picasso and his Masters (Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe) but the line to get in was too long.

Dancers - Degas Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe after Manet - Picasso

My biggest surprise was wandering into a room full of van Gogh paintings and Japanese tourists. There is (I think) something especially vibrant in van Gogh’s colors. The late summer heat shimmers and radiates from “The Harvesters”

van Gogh's harvesters  School-children learning about art

While walking through the larger galleries on the ground floor we passed a lovely polar bear surrounded by children drawing sketches. Their teacher was explaining something about how the bear was standing on a platform, and asking if that was part of the statue or not.

Dinner at a nice Hungarian restaurant up the street from our hotel. The proper restaurant experience, not just a simple brasserie meal, but with fancy dishes and the works. Lovely and satisfying.

Monday in Montmartre and Pompidou

We had time for a brief trip to Les Abesses and to the Pompidou before we left for Orly in the evening.

I Love You at Les Abesses  Vi Elsker Deg - Diana Graffiti

Fay had heard about a wall covered in “I Love You” messages, near the Abesses in Montmartre – right by the Metro entrance. After a bit of walking around the back streets of Amelie Poulin country, we found it – it is in the abbey garden – with quiet little walkways that lead you to the wall itself. This wall is beautiful.  “I love you” repeated in dozens of different languages. While we were taking pictures and spotting languages we recognized, another class of students on a field trip showed up for some graffiti appreciation.

A different wall of “Love You” messages is not so far from the Eiffel tower. Originally a symbol of American-French fraternit√©, the torch of freedom has now been repurposed as a Diana memorial. On the wall over the highway underpass are scribbled love notes to the dead, including one from this year’s Miss Norway contestants.

Outside the Pompidou center Inside the Pompidou - a macabre wedding dress

The Pompidou was a pleasant surprise. Outside the sun was shining and the water was burbling in the sculpture/playground. Inside was even more art, but also interactive video installations, torn up posters, sculpture, and a special exhibit on the Futurist movement.

Girl Running on Balcony - Futurist painting Posters - Jacques Villeglé

Some of it makes you ask – how can this be art? Torn posters, anonymous art? Collage? If nothing else, it made me think and ask questions. Answers were not as forthcoming though.

Bon Voyage - CAI Guo-Qiang - 1000 objects collected in airports - a flying air whale The Kiss - Wang Du

Other artwork just left you dumbfounded – the whale that dived down at you as you came into the room was beautiful and left me with an impression of a dream of flying.

Strangest sight was a room with ropes strung across it, with a pair of binoculars entangled in the ropes. It’s sculpture, but not as we know it. The inflatable furniture was a good laugh (especially since it’s now readily available from Ikea)


The view from the top of the exterior escalator at the Pompidou is also well worth the trip up – standing up on the free-floating platform and looking out over the rooftops of the city made my stomach flutter in a way that the Eiffel does not. The feeling that the platform is just hovering in the air is unnerving.

We had an early dinner (Chinese take-out. Turns out that most bars and restaurants close between 3 and 6 pm.) and trip back to the airport. Orly is thankfully straightforward to navigate, but less futuristic in its architecture than CDG. After only a 30 minute delay, we got to sit in the foetid air inside the norwegian branded metal tube with wings. Not so much fun.

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