medieval art history, navel gazing, horizon scanning
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Paris je t'aime (of course)
Any day that starts like this is going to be a good one. Where last night was a series of images posted on le facebook to various dear ones, today, the city intertwined into a narrative. And so herewith, a Day in which Paris Insistently Revealed Itself as Wondrous.
And so you start at the Pavillon de l'Arsenal which is devoted to cool new architectural projects and to telling you the history of l'urbanisme (the urban planning) of Paris. And so, it starts in the Middle Ages (Philipe Auguste, the ramparts, etc.) and continues all the way to today, with stops in the 1960s and 1970s that still look more mod and cool than anything today. Upstairs: a show on "Re. architecture": recycle, reuse, reinvest, rebuild. Very cool. And a realization that Paris really didn't stop in the 19th century (no, really).
Then over to the Musée Carnavalet to see the signs that Michael Camille first loved out loud: shopkeepers and tavernkeepers (here, Le Chat Qui Dort - how else could the mouse get so close?). And to see an Atget show. All original prints (with their texture and patina and thickness of paper); all striving to capture and hold on to a Paris that was disappearing (which starts to be a part of being in Paris - not just the seeking of authenticity (let's not get started on that), but the nostalgia for this or that. Atget lavishes it onto a photograph, onto every photograph. The destruction of streets he frames just so I had just learned about in the Pavillon de l'Arsenal's timeline. So, to treasure all of Paris always.
Lunch in the Marais where one can enjoy a fully full falafel while listening to Abba. Because that's just how hip the Marais is.
I completely blame the glass of wine at lunch for what happened next.
Actually I went to Galeries Lafayette (which takes much girding of the loins) knowing that it was the only place in Paris I would readily find a Becassine figurine. My last morning in Brittany, I received an e-mail from Mac transmitting a deep desire from Eleanor for a Becassine, a Breton heroine that you basically trip over in every store in Brittany but for whom the rest of France doesn't have much truck. This was one of those crazy escapades (no complaints: it comes complete with a 19th-century stained glass dome!), but I miss my Eleanor's cheeks and her tiny searching fingers and so yes, of course, I went and now, sweet one, Becassine is on her way to you.
And then. And then Paris did that thing where it just decides to give and give. I was born here. I've been coming here fairly regularly since 1989. But never before had I even faintly noticed the Musée de Minéarologie. Well, today, I did. It's part of the École des Mines and it. is. splendid. The entrance staircase alone is filled with paintings of different "massif" rock formations, and strewn with large exemplars from ex-colonies (the Malachite from Cameroon, you see). The work on alabaster, and Jeffrey Cohen's and Valerie Allen's work on stones and materiality, and Roger Cailloi's lyrical everything, and Genevra Kornbluth's book on medieval gems, and Marbod of Rennes (author of De Lapidibus) himself, absolutely compelled me to find this place and revel in it.
And revel I did. You are not allowed to take photographs in the Musée de Minéarologie (?) (!) (?) so this is a guerilla shot while the curator was distracted with the one other lone visitor that was there when I was. I want to write about this visit more extensively when my internet connection isn't so slow about uploading images (I guerillaed a few more times). For now, we can just feast our eyes on the colors, and that wondrous tendril stretching forth in the upper left-hand rock. This Musée is completely 19th-century: glass vitrines and cases filled with rock samples from all over the world. Here, Czechoslovakia is still a place, as is the USSR; the categories may be scientific, but the site of origin is always given its colonial name. Here, gypsum is listed in the category "Roches et Minéraux aux services de l'homme." Here, samples of the various marbles used in Napoleon's tomb are on display. Of course, the Arsenal and Atget had primed me to look for those Romantic operations. This is also a "school of mines" proper and the entire display is clearly a study collection (lots of posters explaining chemical compositions, and so on). And of course, I ran into Morton's problems with wonder and aesthetics (the really big challenge to doing ecocriticism for me is turning out to be the utter difficulty of putting aside the aesthetic drive of wonder). But geez, look at those rocks!!! Colors, forms, combinations - each more impossible than the last. Surpassing the inventions of art. And this, surpassing my understanding: meteorites. A simple question emerges: how do you know it's a meteorite? How do you know it's not just a rock that hasn't been discovered yet? And yet, a whole case of meteorite ("essentiellement de la ceinture des asteroïdes entre Mars et Jupiter" - how do they know???). I can't wait to find out the answer. And this museum, and these these stones, somehow encapsulating for me the drive to simultaneously rationalize and marvel that became Paris in the 19th century. Pushing me ever harder to discern a terminology, an approach to what wonder may have emerged from and produced in the Middle Ages. Merveilles - émerveillement. Wonder - wonderment. Merci, Paris.