Saturday, August 20, 2005


Ten years ago today - Paris

As I retype these entries, I feel painfully older. The person who wrote these words was so much younger than me, so much more earnest, so much more sure of herself and her place in the world. And so in need of an editor!

8:20 pm, 20 August 1995
Pont Neuf, Paris

I'm sitting on one of the stone bridges on the inaptly named Pont Neuf, watching the sun set, reflected in the Seine. The Pont Neuf, by the way, is inaptly named because pont neuf means new bridge and this is the oldest bridge in modern-day Paris.

The sunset is spectacular, as it has been every night since I've been in Paris. It's as if the gods are reaching out, seeking to inspire the creative spirits that are already drawn to Paris. The sun is a perfect sphere of an indescribable colour - not orange, not pink, not red, not yellow. It is the colour of energy, the colour only the sun could be. A few wisps of clouds, remnants of the day's thick haze, paint the sky varying, shifting shades of pink, mauve and grey. The sun itself leaves a long, shimmering streamer of pink that crawls toward me on the surface of the Seine. With each degree closer to the horizon, the colour fades infintesimally, bleeding the landscape of colour shade by shade toward the monochrome of night.

And what a landscape it is, regally befitting such an imperial sunset. The Left Bank of Paris, with its tree-lined gothic façade. A wrought-iron pedestrian bridge fords the Seine in the foreground, and the deity of all iron structures, the Eiffel Tower, rises serenely from the backround, grey and surrealistically one-dimensional in the darkening haze.

Gradually, the sun is swallowed by the thickening haze, its illumination dampened and defeated prematurely, with no kiss for the horizon. But darkness falls gently, like a floating feather, creeping with increasing boldness from shady nooks and corners, even as the clouds still refract the sun's dying rays.

Somberly, but persistently, darkness engulfs the city and soft pastels yield to deep indigoes. Then, from the twilight, a flicker of light, and another, like the reflections of stars in the earthly plane. Slowly, as if awakening from a day long slumber, Paris begins to illuminate herself - the footbridges, the streetcorners, the restaurants and apartments and finally, gloriously, the Eiffel Tower. Emerging, transforming, an urban Phoenix: Paris, the City of Lights.

(What can I say, it's Paris, it does that to you.)

I guess I'm feeling excessively creative tonight because I've spent the day bathing in artistic history - four hours in the Musée d'Orsay this morning and another hour and a half getting my feet wet in the Louvre. Orsay was wonderful! The museum itself is a work of art, a converted railway station. I saw almost all the Impressionist paintings I've learned about, and so much more. I wish I could go back again and again. I'm in awe of the skill, the colours, the sheer talent, the history... let's just say I'm in awe in general. There is so much more to see, to learn, to understand.

And I thought Musée d'Orsay was overwhelming - until I got to the Louvre. I'm glad I spent a while poking around there this afternoon - it took me that long just to get oriented and get my bearings. There are seven "schools" spread out over three wings, and nothing seems particularly coherent, from a chronological or artistic perspective. But I bought a little guide book and picked up a free map - god, I'm attacking the Louvre with the same tactics I use to learn a new city. I'm excited about tomorrow's visit - today just whet my appetite.

I did a major sight-seeing tour of Paris yesterday. I wandered for a while in the Latin Quarter (my favourite neighbourhood) and got a little lost, then wandered through the gorgeous Luxembourg Gardens on my way to the Musée Rodin. I really liked that one; it's one of the nicest museums I've been to. There is a huge garden around the museum housing about a dozen sculptures including The Thinker, a huge statue of Balzac, and an imposing door-type gate called The Gates of Hell - very disturbing. Inside, I was lucky enough to see my favourite Rodin sculpture, The Kiss (actually, Le Baiser) among hundreds of others.

My walking tour continued through Les Invalides, a huge palace-like Veteran's home and location of Napoleon's tomb. I carried on from there (having gone there more because I stumbled upon it rather than because I sought it out) to the Eiffel Tower, where I waited like a good little tourist in the 1/2 hour line up to go to the top. Worth it!!! A most excellent view of Paris, literally as far as the eye can see.

I continued my trek, heading down one of the huge boulevards that intersect in the 12-street traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, I had to go up there, too, so I climbed the stairs to the top (yes, I took the lift on the Eiffel Tower. YOU feel free to climb 300m of steps in the mid-day August sun. Actually, the stairs only lead to the first of three observation decks anyway.) Anyhow, the Arc de Triomphe was an impressive structure, but less than 48 hours had elapsed since the aforementioned bombing, and I wasn't willing to test my Garp-luck theory.

So, Intrepid Traveler (read: tourist from hell) took off for a saunter down the Champs Elysées, across the Place de la Concorde with its ancient Egyptian obelisk, through the Tulleries Gardens and into the courtyard of the Louvre, where I gratefully stood in the spray of the fountains flanking I.M. Pei's controversial glass pyramids. Personally, I think they're kind of funky looking, if not a little out of synch with the (baroque?) style of the Louvre's palatial wings.

All in all, I figure it was probably a 20 or 25 km trek; it took from 9 in the morning until almost seven in the evening, but I saw so many great parts of Paris. Because I walked everywhere, I got to see a lot of un-touristed residendial and commercial areas that made the city more real and more endearing to me. Paris isn't just a tourist city - it's alive with the people who live in it.

As if Paris weren't interesting enough on its own merits, this afternoon when I stopped off at the hotel between the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre, I found the little square outside the Hotel Henri IV (my hotel) completely blocked off because they were filming a movie there! Details are sketchy, but I found out the working title is "Le Proprieteur" and it is a Merchant Ivory film. The scene they were filming was showing the WWII liberation of Paris. So I rubbernecked around there for a while, too, but time in Paris is a precious commodity to me. Speaking of which ... à demain!

(Editor's note: The movie was eventually titled Surviving Picasso. Quite ironic, given my Picasso obsession born in Venice and Antibes. I've since seen it - it's quite a good film!)