We blinked and were in Paris, rushing into Gare du Nord and into a taxi. Dumped on a street corner, after some confusion we realised the key to our apartment was not in its rightful place and spent some time waiting, drinking a beer and then waiting again. Before long we were in our tiny Parisian hideaway and getting ready for dinner with Amelie, a friend of Hilarys. We had a great first Parisian dinner over too much wine and talks about film, Paris and mountain retreats.
Our first morning in Paris and Dotahn wanted to go out for breakfast, having missed this tasty tradition while we were in Tanzania and having reacquainted ourselves with breakfast treats in the UK. However it turns out that the French have a very different idea of what a breakfast looks like, it usually finds its form in a coffee with croissant or other sweet pastry. This was a very dissatisfying discovery for Tahn. We wandered around looking for the elusive English breakfast but whenever we found a foreign cafe it was closed. It was the summer holidays and it would become a common theme of shuttered and locked shops. Once again we opted for the big guns and on our first day in Paris we went to the Louvre. Our hidey-hole was close to all the touristy action and so we strolled the streets to make our way to the worlds largest museum. The streets of Paris were a big change from the eclectic mix of new and old of London. White, pretty and uniform the buildings were all classically ornate and grand.
In the forecourt of the Louvre, among the hordes and pyramids we searched for the illusive ‘secret’ entrances which would allow us to skip the queues. After a few circles, trying our hand at quintessential tourist photography and fighting off the selfie-stick merchants we found our entrance and made our way into the maze of the Louvre via a fancy mall.
Once past the initial bottleneck of people making their way through the entrance to the Mona Lisa we entered the cool catacombs to peruse countless antiquities. First we saw some early European artifacts as craftsmen in Europe came together to create intricate dioramas. As with a lot of surviving antiquities there was a predominate focus on Jesus which to be honest became tiresome. Despite this the more ancient Greek artifacts showed a more interesting array of themes, stories and techniques.
There was an interesting display of Egyptian artifacts taken from the tipping point of ancient Egyptian culture as Roman influence began to be popular. Sarcophagi began to be made up of a mix of ancient culture and more modern portraiture techniques and a strange mix of ancient gods and new deities.
We fell in love with the Islamic art, particularly Ottoman pattern work and spent some time amazed at the mathematical, chaotic brilliance.
Our wanderings led us to huge halls filled with classical sculpture, beautifully crafted and flowing marble which seemed to breathe and billow as if alive. Matched by grand hallways with intricately carved pillars and cornices, curves, light and space.
After marble halls and imposing sculpture it was on to ornate halls and imposing painting. With that comes the hordes.
One thing we began to notice with ye olde paintings is their inability to paint babies. It seemed that they modeled their babies using grumpy old men and so here are our picks of the old man babies of the Louvre.
Despite the hordes in a small part of the renaissance painting area there were some really amazing classical artworks and the shear size of these paintings couldn’t help but give us a sense of awe.
In the basement of the Louvre there was an area known as the medieval Louvre, the original foundations of a moat from the medieval castle the Louvre was built on top of. The ancient stones and huge curved turrets were amazing and there was an exhibition by the contemporary artist Joseph Kosuth installed along the walls.
Our explorations of the Louvre were growing to an end as evening grew and feet began to drag along the corridors. It was time to say goodbye.
After stumbling from the Louvre in an art stupor we saw pretty lights and were drawn to them like moths. Large coloured spinny things, loud music and crowds resolved from a distant blur into a fairground. Our dazed wanderings led us to the biggest coloured spinny thing and we took a round on the ferris wheel. To make out and see Paris from on high.
The following morning was Emmily’s 32nd cake day! Birthday walks in the park led us to a giant girder in the sky and we marveled at the crowds as Dotahn did his best interpretation of the tower. It was interesting to note that the Eiffel Tower has a very different aesthetic to the rest of Paris’ decorative eye for the classical ideal of beauty. Curious of this monument to engineering we learned of it’s inception in the 1889 world fair and marveled at the irony that this giant metal tower that was so abhorred by many of Frances leading artists and intellectuals of the time is now the quintessential french icon.
This led to the continuation of lovely French clichés with bicycle rides through the streets of Paris and along the river Seine to a picnic of wine and cheese in the park.
We wandered through the park to find a nice spot, quickly noticing that all the nice spots had fences around them. We were soon to work out that grass is to look at and admire in Paris and not to touch, so we resigned ourselves to a picnic in the dirt.
After the dirt picnic we decided it was time for something completely different and so we went to see some more art! This time to the Palais de Tokyo, The museum of Contemporary art adjacent to the museum of Modern art. Another bike ride along the canal passing playing families and sunny smiles and we were there. As we entered we clambered into a gondola and were gently rowed through a dark expanse of water in the gallery. Shimmering light on black water and the shadows of fellow boaters made for a surreal experience. After docking on the other side of the gallery we clambered into a large pile of foam and watched the ghostly images of other patrons flit across the walls. Ghost ships and gondoliers, ghostly lines of walking figures.
Making our way down into the basement we entered the work ‘Servitudes’ by Danish artist Jesper Just. A haunting and sparse work, Jesper had transformed the basement of the Palais de Tokyo with scaffolding, ramps and barriers, creating a lonely urban landscape. The echoes of footsteps of other visitors resonated from other areas of the show and simple and beautiful video art was placed in interesting corners culminating in a feeling of isolation and human frailty. It was beautiful and melancholic.
Walking through to the next space we stumble upon the children’s art room with a familiar installation from one of Emmily’s favorite artists Henrique Oliveria. Seeing his work for the first time in real space outside of a 2D image was amazing! Next we discovered the work of Patrick Neu. Melding old art techniques of painting and sculpture with a contemporary combination of materials and installation. Neu’s work is detailed and delicate, using fragile materials such as glass, lamp black and the wings of bees.
We were then swallowed by the psychedelic and hedonistic world of Tianzhuo Chen. Which was followed on by the messy denim madness of Korakrit Arunanondchai and his charismatic look into Thai youth culture through installation, video and people with funny names. Instigating nostalgia from the days of our own crazy youth art party’s.
As our shadows grew long we wondered around the Boulevard Voltaire on our way to dinner when we came across one of the most amazing book stores we had ever seen. Filled with an eclectic array of hard backed graphic novels and art books not seen in Australia, the store was torture. As everything was in French with most of them having no published translation into English. Dinner was at a small stylish bistro called Mericourt with a degustation of delicious plated art and paired wine. Emm was feeling truly spoilt. With full bellies and heady with wine we still felt the night was young and decided to continue with the feelings of nostalgia gained from Palais de Tokyo and go out to a Techno club. We found a small concrete bar with a stairway down into a basement booming with bass. The basement had the familiar smell of dank and smoke machine, the flashing of lights reveling a dance floor with only two other dancers. The beats were hard and dirty and we pounded the ground with memories of discovering the dancefloor literally half a lifetime ago.
A Sunday found us wanting to take a break from arts and check out some iconic city streets and maybe do some of this French shopping we have heard so much about. We wandered down to St Martins canal, a tip from Hilary and also one of the scenes in the movie Amelie. Everything was closed pretty much. It was like a ghost town which further reinforced the fact that most Parisians were on holiday. We found some nice Crepes and some fantastically defaced monuments and then headed over to the Great Mosque of Paris. It was a unique experience to see the inside of this beautiful building (surrounded by dudes with machine guns.) Most mosques do not allow anyone to enter unless they are Muslim. We walked through the halls, library and tiled gardens then partook in traditional pastries with sweet tea.
Another important art institution was up next with the Pompidou centre. A huge library and Contemporary and Modern art collection housed in a crazy building of glass, angles and ducts.
Firstly we visited a huge exhibition of the work of Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian born British artist. Starting with confronting and intelligent performance art and moving on to compelling installation work it was an amazing show. Including the workings for her performance allowed us an insight into her thoughts and the development of the work.
After Mona Hatoum we went on to explore the Contemporary and Modern exhibitions, our favorite being a video piece by Cao Fei, called Smoke and Fog. It was a haunting look at urban isolation, with zombies!
Hilary continued to be instrumental to our Parisian experience and hooked us up with another of her friends, Joachim and his partner Sylvia. We met for delicious craft beers, cheese & charcuterie, excellent conversation and all round good times. Wishing we had more time to spend getting to know them.
Last but not least, to experience the grandeur of France’ past we headed out to Versailles to parade around the palace like royalty. This proved a little difficult as our parading was consistently interrupted by the rain and the hordes, but it was amazing nonetheless.
The hordes were truly astounding.
There was an exhibition on the grounds by Anish Kapoor with startling contemporary installations against the traditionally decadent backdrop of the palace and gardens.
Despite the rain, fences and being relegated to the paths. We enjoyed the gardens and the classical music that was blasted from all the many many fountains
Last, but not least a special mention goes to the Paris underground for being incredibly efficient, as well as pretty. Made all the more atmospheric by the old men playing accordions, flutes and violin/horn thingymagigys.