Just three days, with my art historian daughter, S, focused on exhibitions, new museum installations and galleries, with a smattering of shopping thrown in, it was the perfect piece of Paris.
Not so short that I can’t conjure up the sounds of the accordion, thinking back on our long walk from Le Marais to La Monnaie. Not so long that I got frustrated with any of the French attitudes towards us ________ Americans.
We had the gift of some fast and cheap airfares, and the luxury of staying at a friend’s art studio in the Marais and her guided tours. It could not have been easier, and though it might sound very lah-ti-dah and indulgent to jet off to Paris for the weekend, the research goal of my daughter made the trip practically obligatory. And I recommend it.
Our overnight flight was swift and fairly painless. Years of mastering the melatonin regime helped us adapt to the time change and Thursday evening seamlessly turned into Friday as if we had slept like babes (well, that might be a slight exaggeration). Nonetheless we arrived relatively fresh by taxi from the airport only about an hour after we alit, and were able to quickly change and go out with our hostess, SS, for one of the best Israeli sandwiches I’ve ever had, though a journey to the homeland is still on my to do list, at a place called Miznon on Rue des Ecouffes.
We had ringside seats to kitchen theater where vats of leeks awaited curly savoy stuffed cabbage, and brilliant red tomatoes were sliced with deftness to become a piquant sauce. My chicken salad, with no mayo, was so succulent, it melted into me. The accompanying tahini and haricots verts were equally divine.
Thus revived we set out for the precise mission of the trip, an exhibit by the irreverent and illusive artist Maurizio Cattelan, the subject of S’s study, a rare opportunity and therefore an important one. This allowed a full-on immersion in the city, traipsing past Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, le Pont Neuf, and Ile-de-la-Cite. At less than 40° and with gray skies, the streets were free from summer throngs but there was little hurry, a blessed pace that continued throughout the weekend.
At Monnaie de Paris, translated as The Paris Money Museum, the satirical exhibit was elegantly installed and as we roamed from room to red carpeted room, we were entertained with witty and clever art works. My daughter, S, in her white coat, matched the pope’s coat in Cattelan’s La Nona Ora sculpture and many pics were taken of her taking pics in their matching duds. The exhibit included one of Cattelan’s more disturbing pieces entitled Him, which was expertly placed at the end of the hall so you couldn’t tell who ‘he’ was until you arrived. I’ll leave the reveal untold. What was so engaging about the show was that one could easily walk around each piece, seeing it from all angles and getting as close as one liked.
We took the bus home, but just before it came, quickly dashed into a quintessential art supply shop, Charvin, where I picked up a new travel watercolor set for my husband, just like the one he purchased about 20 years ago when we first visited. You can hold the black metal set in your hand, it’s that small, but it comes complete with a water trough and flask so you can truly paint on the go. I’ve seen that set over the course of hundreds of thousands of miles of travel and more than 20 countries and as the colors were used up several years ago, so I thought investment in a new one made more than a bit of sense.
Dinner arrangements had been prearranged by SS and her foodie husband CF and since the Parisians do not dine early, S and I had a moment to lie down, if only to catch our breath. We collected our hosts at their apartment, a short five-minute walk from the studio, and ambled along the stone sidewalks of Le Marais to a Moroccan restaurant that glowed with golden lights behind carved wooden screens. In true international jet set fashion, we ended up meeting the couple directly to my left, Americans like us, who jumped into our conversation about author Carl Hiassen, who I have not yet read. The gentleman was a large, burly guy, and just so happened to be Robert Rauschenberg’s nephew, whose physique he inherited. We didn’t think much of his young wife however. Dressed in Mickey Mouse shirt and a chapeau she wore throughout the dinner, she spent her entire evening with face-in-phone. You know…that painful hunched over look with a sickly blue glow on your face that tells your companions “I’m busy here.” Her husband was bored, and thus ensued his inclusion in our chatter.
Saturday dawned slowly. The sun doesn’t rise until 8:30am and the Paris streets reflected this languid beginning to the day, but we were up and out. We tracked down some coffee, Italian, and the only open bakery we could find, selecting multiple pastries of various flavors and sizes to quell S’s quest for the perfect almond croissant – not this time – keep looking.
Our morning activity was a visit to the Centre George Pompidou where we had to wait an hour, we had come too early, though not too early to get a good spot on the ever-increasing entry line. A British gentleman took the opportunity to pepper us with questions about the recent US elections, about which I defended my innocence in the unfortunate result. He likened it to the Brexit vote, and we all felt depressed. The museum had an expansive exhibit of Rene Magritte’s work, followed by a highly contrasting body of work by Cy Twombly. I left with greater appreciation of Magritte and a bit of a diminished view of Twombly, partly due to some large crayon drawings that I couldn’t quite square with great art. I like his abstract paintings, but these child-like scratchings just didn’t cut it for me.
We met SS nearby for a quick lunch at an Italian bistro, where the food was good, but S and I were lusting for something more French. We were promised that dinner would be our chance at authentic, and we settled in for roast veggies and ravioli.
The afternoon was another long walk (note to self, bring sneakers next time) touring the galleries in our section of town which meant entre to dozens of beautiful courtyards, the hushed ambiance of the hallowed white walls, and a repetitive popping up of gallerinas, all dressed in black, but eminently more friendly than their New York counterparts. We saw some Rauschenbergs, but not our new friend. There were contemporary favorites as diverse as Murakami and Rosenquist. Modern icons from Duchamp to Wessleman, and many more obscure, yet provocative work among the more than 20 or so places we stopped in on. Our route was designed by SS to end at the Place de Vosges,
arriving just as the sun was setting. It had been a crystal clear day and the backlit sky made the Paris turrets pop in front. Our stiff legs given a respite when we stopped for a spritz at one of the classic bars set under the colonnade surrounding the square.
On Sunday we stole a couple of precious hours to take advantage of the dozens of beckoning shops in the neighborhood where Parisian fashions, trinkets and food abounded. Though most every store window displayed haute couture in all manner of black, black and grey, S steered us into a standout boutique offering a kaleidoscope of décor and clothing called Antoine et Lili. Though she came away with an understated, and refined kimono-styled dress in black and white, I snagged a rich purple knit shawl-like sweater and a coordinating green and purple silk scarf as wide as my outstretched arms, not being able to resist the vibrant hues. We congratulated ourselves on the prudent purchases, a buyer’s market with the excellent exchange rate and plentiful selection.
For lunch that day we bee-lined for one of S’s go to spots in Le Marais, Les Philosophes, a corner restaurant serving the perfect French luncheon, complete with the Salad des Utopistes, a delectable salad with warm goat’s cheese and toasted sour dough bread points. It was so crowded inside, the wait about 40 minutes, and the sun was shining in the clear sky, that we opted for the immediate availability of the outdoor tables. As we encountered in many locations around Paris, there were heat lamps under the awning, and it was more than comfortable and provided better than average people-watching. The waiter was all French, all the way, replying to us in English even after S made the order en fraincaise. But when he asked after us a while later and I said “Merveilleux”, he did give a polite nod.
I had secured timed tickets for the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a new Frank Gehry-designed art museum but the earliest option even two weeks prior had been for 5:30pm, so we headed to the Palais de Tokyo for a performance artist’s exhibit, Carte Blanche by Tino Sehgal, that led us in the general direction of the Bois de Boulogne. It’s an artist S teaches about and to see the live performances was illuminating, though the passages to find some of the obscure settings within this unusual building, were dimmer than dark. Thank goodness for young eyes and IPhone flashlights.
After eventually finding the Palais’s permanent exhibit including some impressive, large works by Delaunay, we continued on Le Metro to the Gehry building. The sun was setting over the Bois de Boulogne, but we were able to catch a glimpse in the fading light of the Daniel Buren-colored exterior and the tour-de-force architectural design. It’s a magnificent building, monstrous and striking, that looms over its tiny
footprint like a large, docked boat. Timed tickets aside, the place was packed, and our art-weary eyes and minds drifted behind the crowds examining the Shchukin Collection full of Monets, Cezannes, Matisses, Picassos and all manner of modern French artists. We ascended to the roof decks where you can really take in the full impact of the engineering feat and tension structure that struck me immediately as Buckminster Fuller inspired. Not so coincidentally, I have been working to save one of Fuller’s original geodesic domes, the oldest extant one anywhere in the world a mere 500 yards from my home in the States. Seeing his influence so many miles away, and so many years after his heyday, impressed upon me the significance of our preservation effort and the reasoning behind keeping the faith and pushing forward on that front.
We had walked over seven miles that day and I was sated with Paris and art and culture. A simple French dinner with our hosts in their decorous Parisian flat, with pate de fois gras, melt-in-your-mouth cheeses and fresh breads, and greens plucked from the local market, we couldn’t have ended our Paris weekend any better. It was relaxing, delicious, elegant. More importantly I could take my shoes off. But I had to beg off as the evening grew late so we could catch our morning flight.
It was amazing how much we could take in in those few short days, and how the experience continues to resonate with a rich tambour. I can still taste the fois gras and feel the cobblestones beneath my soles. I treasure the exposure and opportunity. Vive le France.