medieval art history, navel gazing, horizon scanning
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Eleanor has become interested in photography, and Mac has started talking to her about lighting and composition and so a few of these will be her gems. My sweet brother and his fantastic little family came and went and we miss them and so off we went back to the Marais (where we'd all spent a couple of amazing days together in an apartment - airbnb, you are awesome) and continued our History of Paris curriculum (begun at the Cluny museum on a day I somehow didn't write about - we'll return I'm sure). I'm taking advantage of gorgeous days to go to museums and walk around neighborhoods - there will be plenty of rain in October, November, and December to keep me in libraries. For now, site visits and thinking about the museum course and tiny tiny to-go espresso cups and small beautiful parks.
Walking down the streets of Paris, France with three incredibly chatty kids aged 8-12 is pretty much a spectacle every time. The sidewalks are most often quite narrow, so there's a lot of single file walking - none of which deters them from carrying on lively conversations. I'll often turn around and see exactly this picture as I stop at an intersection to feel them bump up into me, oblivious to all but the finer points of the conversation, which, these days, is mostly likely to be concerning their favorite TV show, Lapins Cretins or how cool Guardians of the Galaxy were.
And so, to the Musée Carnavalet, a museum devoted entirely to the history of Paris and which is undergoing MAJOR RENOVATIONS! This is one of my all-time favorite museums: locks of Marie Antoinette's hair, 10-hour clocks from the French Revolution (why not go metric with time?), models of medieval Paris, front pages of newspapers from important moments in history. It's a completely eclectic museum, a museum of stuff - objects and things of what was then the every day which have survived to become emblematic. So: two whole rooms of shop signs, most of them from the early 18th-century, but many many based on medieval shop signs. Don't forget, it was Napoleon who came up with the idea of numbering street addresses. Until him (ah, Napoleon), it was "meet me at the giant scissors."
Creepy shop sign
I'd asked each kid to pick a favorite one: all three chose the eyeglasses. Because, creepy. And they are, aren't they? Just looking out at you across the room. It's early advertising (who could forget those eyes?), it's early wit (the restaurant "Au Bon Coin" is represented by a coing, a quince), it's early Orientalism (ask me about "The Persian," an enormous (7' tall) figure for an exotic goods store), it's early riddling ("Le Chat Qui Dort" - the sleeping cat - is revealed as such by the tiny mouse directly under his nose), it's all here. And the way that it's set up, you feel as though you're walking down a busy street. I hope hope hope that they do not change this room - it has a crowdedness that contemporary museums hate, but which I truly hope it doesn't lose. Watching the kids run back and forth and decode the signs was great joy. And then, on to the Revolution! The 10-hour clock! The hair!
The sign pointing up, and the black divider blocking entry, say it all. Well, and the kids' faces. Come on, Oliver, tell us how you really feel. Gaaaa! I'll have to look back through old photographs and hope to goodness that I got shots of the Revolutionary rooms (I'm sure I did) - they are truly old and crowded and surely will be changed. From what I can tell (and show you in a second) thus far, there's definitely a "period room" emphasis in the new rooms. I worry about those only because they tend to throw out things that "don't fit" and you lose your eclecticism that way. Fingers crossed. And hope (though dim) that the renovations will be done before we leave - it's a two-year project the guard told me, and everything was still as it ever was in January of 2013 when I was here with students last... Sorry kids, but look!
This is unbelievable! The unspeakably beautiful Art Nouveau façade and much of the interior of the jeweler Fouquet's shop! It's absolutely breath-taking!!! I've been coming to this museum for 25 years and have never seen anything like it - was it somehow in storage all along? a new donation? There are several rooms now (a ball room, a reception room) from multiple different Parisian sites - this is way beyond a period room, this is a re-creation and an environment. All soft, warm wood contrasted with smooth bronze: the flourishing young woman here holds bejeweled necklaces, and the interior (hard to photograph) has a stained glass window of a peacock atop of which is a 3-dimensional bronze peacock! It took our breath away. We've been pointing out the Art Nouveau Metro signs whenever they appear and Oliver put the stylistic pieces together - nice!
After that, there's a return to the period room, or rather a series of period bedrooms of famous people who lived in Paris. How all of Proust's bedroom came to the Carnavalet is surely a tale in and of itself. That's quite a twist, having a portrait of his father, the professor of hygiene and medicine, Adrien Proust, the very man who kept telling Proust to get out of bed already. Mac introduced me to him because he apparently did some work with neurasthenia, this new illness of modernity, this lassitude and fatigue. It's been claimed for Proust (and here I am out of my depth) whether by his father, himself, or posterity I don't know.
Mac met us outside the Musée Carnavalet, himself emerging from his library into the crowd. There's a wonderful phrase, "prendre un bain de foule" - literally to take a bath in the crowd, but metaphorically, hmm: to enjoy the crowd? feel yourself surrounded, enter the flow; phenomenologically, to feel yourself energized by the life around you, to let yourself be curious and taken up in something bigger. I don't know which came first, Paris or the phrase, but they meet nicely at the Place des Vosges. Beautiful park square framed by perfectly matching architecture of the haute haute bourgeoisie (Hugo lived here). But times have surely changed: where before, the grass was meticulously weeded by gardeners and vigilantly protected by whistle-wielding park guards, we (the people!) can now sit on the grass. This is no big deal to Eleanor who loved the fountains instead (rightly so), but it does blow my mind that you can now sit on the grass in Paris, France. Still not at Jardin Luxembourg, mind you, but here, and right in the heart of the elite corner of the Marais. Vive la Revolution indeed!
If I could have simultaneously held a camera and the mountainous falafels we were eating, I would have. The Marais's Rue des Rosiers is rich in these and there are multiple ones to try - these were the feasts of my student days and they haven't stopped. 6euros will still get you all the festivities and then off you go down the street to find yet another park that you can sit in (so many!). And then Paris does that thing, where you start walking and you're seeing things, but you're also just so happy to be in the company you're keeping, and so you keep walking and you don't want the evening to end and it doesn't have to, because the streets keep coming, and Oliver has one more thing he wants to tell us about The Hunchback of Notre-Dame which he'd just finished that morning, and all of a sudden, you totally understand the flâneur, but then there's the metro stop in front of the Hotel de Ville (which is lit up like a birthday cake) and you know this one will take you straight home and so, ok, let's go.
And we even scored four seats together, with Mac just on the other side, and I took this picture in stealth because I don't want to forget them ever reading on the metro, books almost automatically rising out of their satchels, still (to me) tiny bodies settling in to the lull of the train, Eleanor's head on my shoulder, all of us heading homeward.