sábado, julio 29, 2006

Adieu, Paris!!!

Fortunately, the temperatures that managed to establish France’s hottest July on record accomplished their goal and Paris has cooled down to its seasonal norm. Strolling around has not been uncomfortable on the shady side of the street. Stuffy museums stay stuffy. The Hôtel de Cluny while it contained exquisite pieces was tomblike, lacking any form of ventilation. They were extraordinarily proud of their Unicorn tapestries but I promise you, the next time you are in New York, visit the Cloisters on the northern tip of Manhattan Island (our Unicorn is better than your Unicorn.)

This afternoon, I visited the Museum of Jewish Art and History, here in the Marais. There were beautiful liturgical pieces, scrolls, candelabra and torahs along with elements of daily life from the Middle Ages – Jews were expelled from France in the 13th Century - and a copy of the declaration giving them full citizenship at the beginning of the 19th Century was on exhibit. But, of course, hovering in the background and in the end, underlying all of the history and the art were the events of the holocaust. I was most affected by the color portraits of contemporary French Jews and their comments about their French-Jewish identity.

I wended my way to the Centre Pompidou, where I discovered they had wireless Internet. I had my laptop with me and sat in relative comfort in the mezzanine café, having purchased a tiny Dixie cup of Hagen Dazs ice cream.

This evening, I took a stroll in my immediate area. I headed into the XI e arrondissement, just across the Boulevard du Temple – my street. I discovered many Asian restaurants including a very pleasant looking Thai place – an eminently suitable place for my final Paris dinner. Paris is far from an exclusively French city. On any simple trip across town or anywhere in between, the number of Africans, Asians and Moslems is striking. As I no doubt wrote, that on the train from the airport, I was so reminded of similar trips in New York, but I think that Paris is far more cosmopolitan. My city is more cosmopolitan than your city.

French television – amazingly similar to our own. I’m watching a fake reality show – survival on a tropical island. But, a few nights ago there was a fantastic competition. Groups, primarily of young people, created theatrical illusions. The strip tease of the invisible man – so cleverly carried out in front of a black curtain. But, the prize winner, and I was totally in agreement, was an apparent ping-pong game in which the players flew into the air to return serves and then gradually the perspective changed and the table and players were seen from above and gradually the perspective returned back to a more usual view. There were at least 11 members of the team, mostly dressed in black, supporting the upper bodies of the players and their fake legs and, of course, lifting and turning the table. How fantastic, a competition which focused on imagination and creativity.

For some reason - blogger is not letting me upload any more photographs - perhaps I have reached my capacity. Here are two recent albums, curtesy of Yahoo:

jueves, julio 27, 2006

Musée de Hôtel Cluny

Eiffel's former factory now a shopping center

miércoles, julio 26, 2006

Steve in the Archives

View from the Archives

Les Invalides

Jardins de Luxembourg

Dead Ends

Tomorrow, I plan to visit the Archives of the Ministry of External Affairs. It is dimly possible that they may have some records of the Eiffel and Company’s activities in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. I also have to look at South American history. I believe that when Eiffel was working there in the early 1870s, Arica belonged to Bolivia. Lelièvre, Eiffel’s agent in Peru seems not to have been involved in the Bolivia projects but that isn’t all that clear.

Follow-up – the Ministry requires a 2 week prior registration before accessing their archives. I’ll follow that trail some other year. Meanwhile, this morning I tried to locate Eiffel’s factory. As expected, the neighborhood had changed considerably – now full of 1960s apartments. But, I found a park and shopping mall named after the great man, possibly on the site of his factory – street names had changed.

Pavarotti dans le Metro

After dinner, I decided to explore the Left Bank. I took the Metro to Monparnasse and started strolling to the Quartier Latin. I now know where there is a concentration of movie houses (near the Gare Montparnasse), a possible escape on a hot afternoon later on in the week. I wandered down some small streets and found myself at a back entrance of the Jardins de Luxembourg, just as the gendarmes were ushering strollers out – the park closes at sundown. The light was beautiful and I took many more pictures than I have included here.

Eventually, I strolled down the Boulevard St-Michelle toward the Rue St-Jacques – Cluny Metro station. On the way, I availed myself of one of the new high-tech self-cleaning and free public WCs. In fact, I was reminded of the green pissoirs of my first trip to Paris, in 1962. For my younger readers, these were circular metal open-air constructions that enabled men to urinate with some privacy. I don’t know what facilities were offered women. The new unit comes with sanitary paper, a sink, etc. and once you leave, it is out of commission while it is scrubbed and dried ready for the next user.

I needed several changes of Metro lines from Boule-Miche to the Place de la Republique, the stop closest to my apartment. There were several musicians who boarded the trains offering unwelcome performances. But on the final train, I looked up and there was a black curtain strung between two uprights and a Pavarotti puppet started singing La Dame e Mobile from Rigoletto and mopped his brow with a handkerchief – how brilliant!!!

lunes, julio 24, 2006

Mes chers amis,

You will laugh at me. In looking for a quiet air-conditioned place to eat and read, I entered a Parisian department store – Bon Marché and found their café. A small pastry and an elegant bottle of Norwegian water later – I spent 8.8Euro or $13 for the privilege. I’m too aware of prices which cramp my style but… meanwhile, I can sit here and write this letter to you and they can’t chase me away. I am resting my, oh so tired, feet and gather my strength.

I spent most of the day in the Louvre. The I. M. Pei pyramid and its circulation system manages the crowds very nicely. The distances are enormous and my feet – and everybody else’s – become a focus competing with the paintings. (I was particularly drawn to the big smooth marble and granite feet on Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculptures.) I fell asleep in one of the lower back supporting couches. I’ve been in Paris for almost a week - I have yet to have a decent conversation with anyone. I called my friends on the Côte d’Azur and they will meet me at the railroad station next Sunday. They are very dear people – best friends from Grad School and resuming our friendship will more than compensate for my present dry-spell.

Last night I dined at a guidebook recommended restaurant, L’Encrier, near the Gare de Lyon. I selected a complete meal and it was way too much food. Of course, I consumed it anyhow. But, it was the first and only carefully prepared dinner I have had. The main course was, as I was surprised to discover, calf’s liver in a sauce which perfectly complemented its flavor. And then I walked home and had the best night’s rest.

Today is the final of the Tour de France. Instead of standing along the Champs-Elysées, I visited the Musée de Quay Branly, near the Tour Eiffel. It just opened and contains a collection of materials from non-Western cultures.

The building, designed by Jean Nouvel (the architect of the monstrous Opera Bastille) is sited along the Seine between the Champs de Mars (with it’s Tour Eiffel) and my now cozily familiar Musée d’Orsay. It was completely designed from the outside and presents a provocative composition of forms which describe their contents and respond with whit and imagination to their immediate context – an office wall covered with moss and greenery constantly bathed by a gentle and almost imperceptible flow of water qualifies an office wing facing the Seine. The exhibition volume – a russet boat-like form -floats above a park on a few dark and discretely cylindrical columns.

After a ¾ hour weight – the attendants promised an hour-and-a-half, perhaps their way of reducing the crowd - I bought my ticket and entered a white volume with a white ramp that passed through a dark passage and I was in the exhibition volume itself. The collection is magnificent and well displayed – although there were some strange amorphous leather-like forms dividing exhibits and guide circulation and which morph into seats with their associated video monitors. An important feature of the façade is a group of volumes projecting out toward the Seine. Inside, they provide small exhibition spaces removed from the general flow of circulation and are each specially and uniquely organized to display special objects, but somehow too precious an idea often competing with the remarkable objects they are intended to present.

Actually, the relation between volumes, textures and landscape is quite satisfying and Nouvel displays tremendous resourcefulness in handling forms at this scale. Perhaps, two or three clear organizing elements in the interior of the exhibition space could have supplied a stronger sense of orientation. Once in the exhibition volume, floors continued to slope – I could never figure out to what purpose other than as another distraction. Last night, I walked past the Opera Bastille on my way back from dinner. There, I expect the interiors were very carefully worked out. Here, I feel it’s quite the reverse.

Le Flaneur

I must be crazy or I’m getting used to this Paris situation. I walked back from the d’Orsay, stopping once near the Beaubourg for some cheese and wine in an American-style cafeteria that promised air-conditioning – just a bit of relief and I could sit down. Surprisingly, there are not that many places one can sit – other than the many outdoor cafés and I pick and choose those occasions with care. I then made it to the Internet Café a few blocks from the apartment and uploaded my blog postings. A side trip to the Monoprix (my local supermarket) where I bought something for supper and climbed the stairs to the apartment and dozed off until about 9. Dinner was a tasty Carbonara and an Escarole salad – really great. I was thinking of a pre-bedtime stroll but I just don’t have the energy. Paris life is really work.

Tomorrow is Saturday and the archives are closed until Monday. I was thinking of a trip to Versailles but the heat wipes me out – I need to be indoors and in air-conditioning. Perhaps the Louvre will do. I really have so little human contact – I might even take a tour to get to meet some people. Maybe that would be a good idea for Sunday.

viernes, julio 21, 2006

Figaro et l’aventure de mes pantalons

This morning I did my laundry.

I accidentally placed my clothes in a machine already occupied.

I left the Laundromat to sit on a shady bench.

When I returned, a frantic Canadian thought that his clothes were stolen.

While waiting for the wash and dry we chatted.

I learned he was staying at the Hotel Beaumarchais

And was departing at noon for Iceland, on his way back home.

When I folded my things, I realized that I had not brought my khakis.

But they were not in the room.

Off to find the Hotel Beaumarchais

And avoid buying new slacks

The receptionist had not heard of any Canadian traveling with his mother

But I decided to wait anyway.

A few minutes later

The Canadian and (certainly not his mother) emerged from the elevator

My pants restored and neatly folded.

A productive day in the Archives

Actually, it’s really a rather pleasant place. I go through a not-for-the-public access, around the corner on the Seine side from the main lobby. A staff member takes my passport and gives me an orange badge to wear and I take an elevator up to the 4th floor. After a few false turns, I eventually make my way to a large room with big tables and windows overlooking the Louvre. Fabrice Golec had assembled all the materials I had requested on Tuesday and I started plowing through them.

A few blurry, carbon copy resumées, some handwritten speeches and finally the letters. The problem with Eiffel research is the great man himself. Everything is Eiffel-oriented and one has to look past him to get some kind of a glimpse at the world that surrounded him and, in my case, at the Latin American activities which occurred despite (or because of) Eiffel’s participation.

Through family letters, I have begun to know M. Lelièvre, Eiffel’s agent, an old and faithful member of Eiffel’s company and a dear family friend. I stopped (or was stopped because it was 5 pm) at the point that Lelièvre has arrived with his family in Lima. Tomorrow, I will learn that he died from some tropical disease. One becomes attached to these people – their handwriting, terms of endearment, discussions of wedding arrangements, and business worries. There is something so intimate about reading the actual letters.

It rained last night and the tall windows in my apartment are either open or closed. So, I’m afraid I did let some rain inside – otherwise there would have been even less air. I had lunch near the Boule Miche – this tiny little stand where the guy toasted panini and made crepes so smoothly and efficiently that even the Camilia Grill’s short-order cooks would have been envious. A tasty toasty panini and a coke for 3 Euros. The best deal in town.

Tomorrow morning I will do laundry and go to the archives in the afternoon. If I’m lucky I should finish up there and move on to the Archives National – a much more chancy proposition.

Les Archives Nationals

L'As du Fallafel

Musée Picasso

jueves, julio 20, 2006

I don’t remember a Paris so oppressed by heat

We all suffer together

Parisians and tourists alike

And humble researchers

Maybe it’s me

I do feel my age

My feet are killing me

Ankles and blisters

And yet every day, I walk miles and miles

The maze of Marais now familiar

I choose routes

And observe changing light and activity

M. Fabrice Golec, at the d’Orsée Archives is friendly and helpful. The Catalogue sommaire illustré, a book they published in 1989 allowed me to make a list of potentially useful documents. Unfortunately, this morning there was a previously scheduled event in the graphics archives. Tomorrow, I will start reading letters, speeches and other records of Eiffel’s practice. The kinds of business letters I had hoped to find are not here. But, lets see what might be hidden behind the documents I do have access to.

As a consolation prize, I was given access to the Musée itself and spent most of the day in blessed air-conditioning. A very well organized exhibit fully exploiting the old railroad station. The big space was divided to provide expansive exhibit spaces without loosing the huge vaulted volume. There was an extraordinary sectional model of the Paris Opera (totally unexpected), showing all of the stage machinery and the spatial sequences. And the Pizarros and Corots – and I found a strong influence of Spanish painting in Manet – especially El Greco.

Thursday, 20 July

It's hard to get used to the French keyboard. Touch-typing is out of the question.
A successful morning in the archives - if I am lucky, I may be able to finish up there this afternoon - then it's the Archives National - a short walk from my apartment.

Some images: