My Birthday in Paris, Part 4

The Splendor of Musee d’Orsay

On Friday of our astounding week in Paris we visited the Musee d’Orsay, an enormous  destination that is now dear to my heart. The famous clock, that spot-on perfect icon that defines this museum in the minds of folks who are passionate about art history was clearly visible and unmistakable as we approached from a bridge on the right bank crossing over the Seine to the left, an easy walk from our hotel in St Germaine. What better symbol, what better icon, to identify such a priceless location commemorating the very passage of time and the treasures therein? What time has given us is personified in Paris and its museums. All that is right in the world of art, antiques, fashion, food, design, music, literature, treasures small and large and tradition I found in abundance during our week of wandering this gorgeous city. A city that remains easy to explore, welcoming, comfortable and always extraordinary in its offerings.

The gigantic rotunda of this museum might reveal that it was once a railway station built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle but by 1939 rail travel ceased at this building. Later from 1848 to 1914 the government set about transforming it it to what became the country’s premier showcase for art. It is grand and glorious but not uncomfortably so, with comfy beanbag chairs accessible for relaxing in the upstairs space where you see the interior photo of the window clock, which reveals an amazing panorama of the city’s Montmartre area including the Sacre-Coeur. It was nearly shrouded by fog the day we were there….

As with the Louvre and its Mona Lisa, I had one primary goal in the Musee d’Orsay and that was Degas’s ballerina sculpture titled Little Dancer. Once again, blotting tears streaming down my cheeks, I walked around and around her as I remembered my own tiny dancer daughter when she was in the Nutcracker at Denver’s Christmas season years ago. I have always been a fan of Degas, and this sculpture is tres magnifique and especially realistic with its unusual addition of a pale peach-colored gauzy  tutu and a wide satin hair-ribbon to match that have remained almost unscathed since it was incorporated into the 1880 sculpture. The young girl depicted in the sculpture is a fourteen year old Belgian, a student at the Paris Opera Ballet School of that time named Marie van Goethem. Little did she know that she would live forever in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and become a worldwide symbol of the ballet. Degas’s huge body of work portrays many ballet scenes; this one is by far his claim to fame.

I also viewed more Van Gogh’s than I had ever seen in one space that day in the Musee d’Orsay, as well as Manet, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and many others who were made real to me through my viewing of their Impressionistic art.

To be so fortunate, so blessed and so enlightened on one day in Paris, just one day out of seven, was rare and immensely joyful for me. I am forever changed by it and thankful that my daughter sent me there for my birthday. If you read my own grown-up ballerina’s travel blog here on WordPress at http://www.compassandcamera.wordpress you will be reminded that she wrote about my mother’s (and her grandmother’s) trip to Europe of many years ago including a trip to Paris, based upon the postcards she sent home. Of course my daughter has also been to Paris, included with many other countrys on her travel resume.

Hhmm…. this Paris thing is a golden heirloom thread running through our family now and it is no accident believe me. We women know where to go and what to see that will enrich our lives and add to our appreciation for the life we have been given and the very brief time we have here on earth in which to live it….. I wish for all of you a trip to Paris.

For additional photos of Paris please follow me on Instagram at “the creative epiphany” Jo Ann Brown-Scott

 

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The Spell of Paris, Part Three

Oh Paris I am deep under your spell. Seven days spent in your magical bubble took me entirely away from all practical considerations into the sublime realm of the ancient and the artistic. I felt almost the same visiting Rome and Florence only different. Paris is different. Different in what way is the question I continue to ask myself…how can one define Paris?

Paris is a celebration, a happening, an event unto itself. People go to Paris to commemorate an enormous occasion, or as a second time, longed-for treasured gift of a trip because they cannot stay away…Paris is made of romance, of visual delights, of a longing for quiet strolls along the Seine and magnificent museums, outdoor cafes (no matter the weather) with bread,cheese & wine and people watching. Paris is a beautiful lady bearing timeless glittering gifts inside long and lovely evenings. She welcomed us with open arms and we were never treated as tourists. People actually spoke to us for no reason and helped us and giggled with us about our feeble attempts at the language. We never felt ridiculed or laughed at. I don’t quite know where Parisiannes got the bad rap for being aloof and cynical because we saw none of that.

Our second day in Paris began with a 10 am reservation at the Louvre, located just across the Seine from us, looming as a magnificent iconic monument  in the distance as we walked toward the glass pyramid by noted American architect IM Pei. When we entered I was overtaken by emotion, awed by the sheer size and reverence I have for the most splendid of all museums, I believe. Please visit my Instagram account for a more extensive selection of photographs from Paris at The Creative Epiphany, Jo Ann Brown-Scott

If we had devoted our entire week in Paris to only the Louvre, we still would not have seen everything. The foremost item on my list was absolutely the Mona Lisa and yet I was transfixed by the rooms along the way that contained ancient sculpture including Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and Roman artifacts such as the bathtub pictured above. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, a superb Hellenistic sculpture from the second century BC which we studied extensively in my art history class at CU in Boulder took me by surprise as we walked the stairs toward her. Full body chills – it has been a very long time but I finally saw her in the flesh, and she is amazing, especially the draping of her robes so expertly executed in marble.

The ceilings in the Louvre are ornate and fascinating – floors and ceilings will be a fascination for me my entire life and I was mesmerized and in pain from looking up for such long periods of time in Paris, but every bit worth the discomfort.

The Mona Lisa was as I expected with so much more – enigmatic, hypnotizing, eyes seeming to follow you as you walk from side to side. In the newly published book I read before leaving home titled Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) by Walter Isaacson I learned all the newest and re-learned the oldest information about this famous painting and so I came to the Louvre with some questions answered and other new ones to ask…. Leonardo was indeed a complex and multi-faceted artist and inventor and scientist of his time and right up until now, time itself having enhanced respect and admiration for his insightful, ingenious  discoveries. But his brilliant, delicate rendering of this mysterious woman remains as his most iconic work. The gift shop was dominated by all things Mona Lisa – it was rather humorous to see just how many items could display that unforgettable Mona Lisa smile. She is charming and shrouded in mystery.

After leaving the Louvre on that windy cold day we ate lunch at La Fregate along the Seine and I had the Frenchiest French onion soup I had ever eaten in a French cafe. After lunch we walked miles and took in the sights before having dinner at a favorite location back in our St. Germain neighborhood – Les Deux Magot. I highly recommend it – great food and people watching, frequented by sophisticated and prominent locals, as we discovered when it began to snow in big cottonball flakes and the local Parisiannes began to honk their horns and laugh and whoop it up as if they were 7 years old! Snow is rare in the City of Lights and it was so much fun to watch! Our favorite little church across the street was gorgeous in the indigo blue evening with snow blowing in swirls around it. It was the perfect ending to our second day in Paris. I am the luckiest girl in the world!

 

My Paris Birthday, Part One and a Half

Beautiful Surprise

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Sometimes when you have your mind set on one thing (Notre Dame) you are surprised and moved by a different thing discovered along the way…..maybe not as grand or as  monumental as the thing you were seeking, not as polished and elegant, a little bit more weathered and worn around the edges, but certainly worthy of a visit. So you walk in. It is then that you understand the value of never passing up the chance to investigate and perhaps be rewarded for your effort with an unforgettable experience.

Just a short block or so up in the square, a five minute walk, from our Hotel des Continents located at 25, Rue Jacob in the Saint Germain district of Paris we found the well worn little lady of a church named Saint-Germain-des-Pres – astoundingly the oldest church in Paris! Construction on its Bell Tower was begun in 990 making it the oldest one in Paris plus a belfry dating from the 12th century. It is considered quite a prestigious site for the Romanesque style of art and architecture and people have been attending services there for fifteen centuries. It was a Benedictine Abbey with a major intellectual influence over the course of all that time. From the outside it is rather unimpressive, but the gorgeously colorful interior takes your breath away. Reds! Blues! Patterned columns carved with Romanesque capitals that are among the very first of the Romanesque period line the passageways on the sides of the church. There is some much needed renovation going on. Paint is peeling off and colors are fading but it is all being restored to its rightful splendor as we speak.

I was astounded at the beauty of this church and visited again several times while in Paris for several reasons – it seemed to be the center of our familiar little neighborhood with wonderful shops down every street from the church. Also one of our favorite cafes, Les Deux Magots was just across the street from the church and we ate there several times and did some serious people watching. The Saint Germain district is a perfectly positioned area in which to stay, on the Left Bank and just a couple blocks from the Seine. Everything we wanted to see was easily accessible by walking or cab if it was raining. A pastry tray was offered to me at Les Deux Magots that raised the French pastry bar by several notches. I limited myself to just one since they were all the size of melons.

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We  could hear the church bells ringing from that centuries old Bell Tower from our hotel room and the church had an outdoor Christmas bazaar happening every evening with rows of cute little wooden houses with red trim that we loved to frequent for food and gifts. Last but not least I loved this church because I am just a total fool for cathedrals and churches. They indicate so much about the people who lived centuries ago and that has everything to do with my art history courses at CU in Boulder, my own artistic gift and the ways I like to be inspired to paint and create, and then of course my sentimental longing to pay my respects to places of worship that have been so significant in the history of humankind. One of the rainy days when I visited the church a man was taking refuge there.

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On a freezing cold night with strong wind stinging any exposed skin, we bundled up and braved the situation to have our dinner standing up outside at a counter at one of the Christmas booths at the church – Raclette at its finest! Gooey melted cheese, scraped dripping, bubbling and hot off a huge cheese wheel then combined with thin sausage slices, slathered onto a French baguette cut lengthwise. Oh! And with a side dish of the best scalloped potatoes I have EVER had being constantly stirred in an enormous wok-like pan on a burner. I asked her what the recipe was for those potatoes and she told me in English with a lovely French accent – of course heavy cream played the biggest role in that yummy concoction. It was honestly one of the best meals we had in Paris and it was well under 15 Euros, and we had to brace ourselves against the wind as we wolfed it down.

One night it actually snowed which is a rare and wonderful freak of nature in Paris and we also happened to be in the square next to the church. Well, absolute crazy chaos ensued at the sight of snow coming down in flakes the size of cottonballs! Car horns honking! Sophisticated French folks yelling and laughing and catching snowflakes in their mouths! I wanted to invite them all to visit me in Colorado. (see photo of the church in snow above) We can show you some snow!

Days before I ever saw Notre Dame in Paris, which left me breathless and teary, I found this sweet little church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and I am forever grateful for that. It reminded me of a lesson I already knew – beauty comes from within and is undiminished by age.

Please stay tuned for Part Two of My Birthday in Paris! Your response to this series has been quite amazing and much appreciated. I am also posting photos on Instagram under Jo Ann Brown-Scott,  The Creative Epiphany