Monday, August 22, 2005

Tuesday, July 26, was our last full day in Paris. We got up a bit later as Howard was still suffering from a rash that had gone down to his extremities and itched terribly. Once he left the hotel room, it seemed better, however.

This day was our day to explore the Jewish Quarter and go to the Carnavalet Museum, a French history museum that Rick Steves highly recommended. We were glad we went as we enjoyed it too. It is on the edge of the old Jewish Quarter and only about 5 blocks from our hotel. We got there about 11:30 and stayed 3 hours. We wanted to go through in chronological order, but given the complexity of the 2 mansions that the free museum is housed in, that was impossible. I will describe it in chronological order, however.
The courtyards were very interesting. In one was a rare pre-revolutionary bronze, a statue of Louis XIV. It is rare because almost all were melted down during the revolution to make weapons. Another huge courtyard had gorgeous gardens.
Off to one side of the museum was a section on ancient Paris with notes on people living there over 4500 years ago (and parts of wooden hulls from ships from that time) and also lots of information on the Roman occupation. They lived on the two islands and the left (south) bank. (We realized it was called the Left Bank because the water was flowing west, and if one stands in the direction of the flow of the water, the south bank is on the left.)
The museum was filled with period pieces of furniture from the 16th century to the 20th century and also paintings that showed life during those times. (We only saw rooms through the 19th century). They included several models of the Bastille with its 100 foot tall walls and paintings of the Bastille in history and during the early part of the French Revolution when it was burned.

We saw pictures of the leaders of the Revolution and I learned more about the craziness of Robespierre who wanted had started to establish a secular religion to replace Catholicism, with all the hoopla. He wanted a state based on "virtue and rule by terror." This is a picture of Marat.

There was a smaller David painting from just before the Revolution (of the oath the deputies took) That was to be made into a much larger one but which was never finished. Since photography was not in use at that time, paintings are the best visual records of history from that time. We saw a painting of Guillotine who invented this more modern and less painful way of putting a criminal to death. Howard told me that the king actually gave advice on how to make it better, for example, putting the blade on an angle. The king had gone along with the idea of being a figurehead, hoping that the madness that had grabbed the Revolution would blow over, but he ended up being one of the many killed by it. At one time up to 30 a day were decapitated?not royals, but revolutionaries that Robespierre suspected (like MacCarthy). Less than two years after the craziness began, Robespierre was challenged, tried to commit suicide, and eventually died a short time later....ending the mass killings. I found out that before the revolution, the rooster (or gaulle) was the symbol of France.

We saw pictures of Napoleon and of Paris during his rise to power, of Napoleon III (Napoleon's nephew) and of the man he commissioned to remodel the streets of Paris in the mid 1800's. We saw paintings of Notre Dame and the Louvre during various centuries, and we saw furniture that reflected the styles of the times of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI.

Howard got two good little books at the bookstore, one, a short history of France and the other a genealogy of the kings of France in detail.

We then used Rick Steves' book to find a delightful, reasonably priced cafe(CafeHugo), and we ate on the sidewalk of the Place de Vosges.. Though this cafe had plenty of outside seating, I?ve been amazed at the places that stick several small tables on the sidewalk, giving less place for people to walk. Howard had an omelet with potatoes and onions (under 5 euros--a euro was $1.21) and I had a Nicoise Salad (tuna, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, hard boiled eggs and a balsamic vinegar dressing, common in Nice but here too for 8,5 euros). We sat away from most of the smokers, but the truck in front of us barred our view of the plaza most of the time.

From there we headed into the Jewish neighborhood. In less than 4 blocks, we saw at least 5 places selling falafel and at least 4 Judaica stores. We went looking in 3 shops for a haggadah in French for a friend, though it is a bit out of season. I talked in Hebrew to the first clerk I met -- his Hebrew he said was better than his English but not as good as my Hebrew). I found out that he usually uses a Hebrew only Haggadah. A number of the ones he had were identical to the ones we sell at Tree of Life Judaica in Seattle (where I work), just in Hebrew and French instead of Hebrew and English. They had all come from Israel. I did find one I didn't recognize, so after going to an ATM to get more money, we came back and bought it. At another store, I bought a small Elle Weisel haggadah that WAS published in France. There I was surprised and delighted to find the DK children's holiday board books in French. It was fun to walk around the neighborhood in search of something and to discover the area. Shopkeepers were not overly friendly...all the stores were run by men, at least when we went in them. Some but not all of the items were the same as what we have in the Seattle store, but they are much more expensive. For instance, the DK board books were at least 9 euros (over $10), where they are under $7 in the US.

From there, we boarded bus #69 to go on a final tour around the parts of town we had visited....up to the Eifel Tower. Unfortunately, I missed a great opportunity to get a picture of the full tower. We passed by the Louvre, Orsay, Invalid (former HUGE hospital now military museum where Napoleon is buried) and the open area in front of it where expositions had been held), the national military school (Ecole Militair), a big department store, and lots of small shops as we traveled on narrow, one-way roads for the most part. The bus driver was amused that we and another couple (with the same guide book) didn?t get off at the end but wanted to go full circle around...but he didn't charge us to go back.

We got off at Hotel de Ville, to look for a restaurant in the guidebook, but it was closed. After walking more and getting some groceries for the next a.m., Howard went back to our favorite bakery and had a strawberry tart and cafe creme (no longer called cafe au lait) and then we went on to one of the fast-food Chinese eateries when I got a small portion of vegetables and white rice (for 3 euros, less than a large cafe creme). The food is on display, and once you pick out what you want, it is heated (often overheated) in a microwave. We found out that stir fry disher are OK that way, but previously fried or broiled items are not.

By then it was 9, so we headed home to pack and get to bed as we had to get up at 6:30 the next morning to leave and take the subway 2 stops and then the RER 30+ minutes to Charles de Gaulle. It was the end of four nice full days in Paris.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Two major Paris Museums

On 24th of July, 2005, Howard and I spent over 3 hours in the Orsay and the next day over 5 in the Louvre. I don't think that I have ever been in as busy a museum as the Louvre. By far the most common language we heard after French was Spanish...then probably Japanese. We took so many pictures at the two places that it will be hard to decide which ones to include. Photography without flash is allowed in both museums. Many people use flash, and there are not enough guards to stop them.
The Orsay is a fantastic art museum of French artists from the 18th century but the pieces are mainly from 1848 to 1914, mostly Impressionists. It starts where the Louvre stops. The museum formerly was a train station, and the conversion is amazing. It was the perfect place for such a museum.

We saw some very well-known pieces including Millet's The Gleaners,Whistler's Mother (OK, it isn't French), many dance paintings by
Degas, a number of paintings by Monet (though not as many as I had seen at a special exhibit ten years ago at the Chicago Art Museum), and Manet's pre-Impressionist best-known paintings, and works of post-Impressionists including VanGogh, Cezanne, Renior, Pointalism (which I had never seen before), and Primitives such as Rousseau, Toulouse-LaTrec, and finally sculptures such as Honore Balzac by Rodin and his Judgment Day.

Except for the pastels which are under glass and in dark areas, the
paintings and sculptures are out in the open. We are told not to touch, but one could easily reach them. Rick Steves' book was very helpful for us at the Orsay, esepecially since the Orsay map that was handed out was not as helpful in locating paintings as the Louvre one was that we got the next day. Steves' over 20 pages on the Orsay also gave good background history on the paintings.

When we walked back from the Orsay, we first we tried to find the Little Prince Bookstore in the Left Bank, almost Latin Quarter. We found it, but it was closed on Sunday, as were a lot of other places.

So, we walked back on the Islands and had dinner at a place Rick Steves recommended (Cafe Med) which had a decent meal for 12.5 euros. We stopped at the Deportation Museum (WWII) at the end of an island. Since it was drizzling most of the days, a lot of the bookstalls along the river were closed, but we did manage to find another Simenon police mystery for our friend Ron.

The next day, we headed out at 8:30 and took the metro (we had bought the ten-ticket special which we are sharing) to the Louvre. We entered from below, from the subway, and got in rather quickly. Before getting tickets, we walked by the inverted triangle, and both of us found it intriguing. I was prepared to really dislike Pei's triangles, but they were fascinating, and the new below-ground entrance to the Louvre is really functional and attractive. It actually was faster to stand in line at the staffed ticket booth than to use the automated machines. The Louvre free museum map is better than the one at the Orsay because it better shows where key pieces are located. The museum is immense.

We did go to more than Steves' recommended and thoroughly enjoyed it...except for the sore feet we had at the end for standing or walking so slowly. We headed up to the Mona Lisa (called by most La Gioconda), the famous painting of Lisa del Giocondo, to get there before the crowds. It has been under glass since it was damaged in recent years by someone who tried to attack it, and there is a semi-circular cord/metal barrier keeping people away from closer access to the painting. Therefore, it was hard to get a decent picture. The smile is even more enchanting than I had imagined it.

We then passed through the rooms with large-format French paintings. Howard was most impressed by the huge David's, including the Coronation of Napoleon , the Rape of the Sabine Women, and the Oath of the Horatii. The Death of Socrates was not there, but Howard saw it in the MET. Howard explained that David (the favorite painter of Napoleon) clearly showed that in the Coronation painting, although the Pope had come to crown Napoleon, Napoleon took the crown from the Pope and put it on his head himself. (We think the pope is seated on the right, in the close-up shot I took. Also, Howard said that David painted in Napoleon's mother in the top left quarter of the picture, even though she had not been present. The larger, off-kilter picture of the coronation with Howard in the lower righthand corner shows how huge the paintings are.

We then headed down a floor to go through ancient art, starting with Mesopotamia and the Code of Hammurabi. The code was created over 3800 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia and is one of the earliest sets of laws found. The laws (numbered from 1 to 282, but numbers 13, 66–99, 110, and 111 are missing) are inscribed in Old Babylonianon on an 8 foot tall stela of black diorite. It was discovered in December 1901 in Susan in what is now Khuzistan, where it had been taken as plunder by the Elamites in the 12th century BC. The code is probably the first example of the legal concept that some laws are so basic so that even a king cannot change them. By writing the laws on stone, they were immutable. This concept lives on in most modern legal systems and has given rise to the term "written in stone" (paraphrased from Wikipedia).

That whole area of the Louvre was amazing. We saw several fragments from the Stela of the Vultures stone pillar, probably the oldest pictorial depiction of an historical event which took place over 4450 years ago in Lagash, 100 miles north of Modern Basra, Iraq. It was written in cuneiform, the words first written language, invented by the Sumerians.

We also saw the first "copy machines," small carved stone Sumarian cylinders. The huge statues from Akkad were unbelievable, including the Winged Bulls that graced the entrance of the palace of Sargon II. Many colored brick walls were displayed from the palace of Darius of Persia, as were other amaazing Persian columns. There were a number of sarcophagu, including one of a Ramses and one sarcophagus which was placed inside another which was placed inside another. Next to it were tiny clay or wood "servants" to follow their owner to the next world. We saw many many sarcophagii including an intriguing one of a married couple. We enoyed this area greatly, and it had a lot fewer tourists.

The other very famous art work we saw was the Venus de Milo, which was surrounded in layers by tourists. I found her more interesting from the rear than the front. Another amazing statue on a staircase center was Winged Victory of Samothrace.

We saw some really good portraits like Holbein's portraits of Arasmus and Ann of Cleves (the one he did for Henry VIII...but he fell in love with her and painted her looking a lot nicer than she was, which really irked Henry VIII...who divorced her before consumating the marriage...and she became the painter's lover). Henry VIII did provide well for her, according to Howard. When we saw the picture, I wondered why such a plain person was painted for the King and was told that this was a much more flattering portrait than her actual appearance! We also saw the painting of (King) John the Good, which is supposedly the first European portrait just done as a portrait and not part of a religious work. It is done on wood in the 1350s and is under glass as it probably is not in great condition. Very few pictures except pastels were not within reach of viewers. It really amazed us.

Finally, we went through the galleries explaining the history of the Louvre and also showing the underground medieval parts left of the Louvre. It was stunning. A chapel from that time really gave a clear idea of how the Louvre looked when first built in the thirteenth century. The explanations also showed plot maps of the Louvre from the 1300s when first built through the reconstructions of Louis Napoleon finished in 1870 when the total rectangle was finished (and then then new end destroyed by fire the next year).

After 5 hours, we were exhausted. We walked through part of the Tulleries, huge gardens (mostly grass with trees trimmed back to allow people to walk under them but to still give shade) where people could sit, talk and play. We actually saw a machine trimming the trees. The Tulleries were much more of a "people" park and less than "gardens" than I had expected. It was extremely windy with dark, blustery forboding sky. We saw the Arche d'Triompe from a distance as well as the Eiffel Tower. After taking the Metro back, I fell into a drugged sleep for 3 hours.

We headed out again at 8:30, walked through part of the Jewish quarter and saw at least 8 Kosher fallafel shops as well as a religious bookstore we will return to tomorrow to get a friend a French haggadah, and then headed back to the islands, where we watched games like bocci on the pseudo beaches along the river and sat for an hour in the cold until the lights of Notre Dame were turned on...quite a spectacular site. The bridges too were quite pretty lit up at night.

I've included many more pictures than our original e-mail. We managed to get pretty good pics with available light--it was permitted to take pics without flash. The last pic is my classic pose at the one place in our Paris hotel room where we could piggyback on someone else's wireless internet access. You can see how wide (narrow?) the room was....but it was perfectly fine for us and in a fantastic location.
Dina and Howard