Paris, November 2012
I went to Paris in November 2012. It was my first trip, other than business trips, since I was a kid. I had finally recovered from work-alholism and my niece was doing a semester abroad in Seville, Spain. She was traveling all over Europe and I was getting the photos from my sister-in-law, and felt so envious. So I decided that I would go to Paris. Then. No waiting, no planning. By myself.
At the recommendation of a friend, I booked a room at the Hotel Relais Bosquet on Rue de Champ de Mars in the seventh arrondissement. The hotel is relatively small, its front door barely noticeable on the street, but was perfectly located. Only a quick walk to the Eiffel Tower, and just around the corner from Rue Cler, a market street with cafes, florists, cheese shops, a butcher and produce shops. The essential Paris Metro stop was just down the street. Nearby restaurants, cheese and wine shops and chocolatiers made it the truly perfect Paris spot.
I went to Paris to see the art. It was November, after all, so I certainly wasn’t going to see gardens. I purchased a six-day Paris Museum Pass, which provides entry to more than 60 public museums in the city, though I would never see that many in the week I was there. But the pass allowed me to skip the long lines and saved me plenty of Euros in the end–a very good deal.
My first stop was the Musee de L’Orangerie near the Place de la Concorde–a public square with fountains, an obelisk and tourist shops–and the Tuileries. The L’Orangerie is where you can see Claude Monet’s famous two-room, oval installation of his gigantic canvases of water lilies at various times of the day, collectively known as Les Nympheas. These huge, eight curving canvases constitute the museum’s permanent collection. Upstairs, there are changing exhibits, usually paintings of some of the other Impressionists. Outside the museum are several sculptures, including one of the many copies of Rodin’s “The Kiss.”
The Louvre, of course, was my second stop, once I’d recovered from jet lag. This famous, enormous museum requires more than two days to see all of the many famous paintings and sculptures. The Louvre is a quick walk through the Tuileries from the L’Orangerie. The Tuileries somehow not your typical park, not grass and dogs, but rather a large pond, trees, sculptures and a few eateries. The French picnic here, and musicians play for free.
The Louvre contains some of the most famous historical paintings and sculptures in the world, including of course the Mona Lisa, which is a surprisingly small painting given its bigger-than-life fame. Tourists crowd around it and snap picture after picture. Watching them, I wondered whether they spent any time actually looking at this master work, which they would no doubt never see again except in their photographs, which aren’t much different from the view anyone can find online or in any book on art history. Did they see the brush strokes? The blending of the paints? The mysterious background? Sometimes I force myself to look at a painting for at least one minute before taking a photograph. For this blog, however, I am not reprinting paintings to avoid any copyright concerns.
By far my favorite museum was the Musee D’Orsay, which used to be a train station. While the Louvre contains more traditional art, the D’Orsay features art from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, before World War I broke out. The D’Orsay has the largest collection of the works of the Impressionists, post-Impressionists and the Fauves that followed them. Manet’s famous Luncheon on the Grass has a prominent place on the fifth floor of the museum, where the history of the movement is told in pictures as you move from gallery to gallery.
I leave it to you to go see the many lucious paintings at the D’Orsay. When I was there, in addition to the permanent Impressionist exhibit, there was a traveling exhibit called Impressionism and Fashion, which contained some additional Manets, Monets, Renoirs and others, as well as some actual dresses from the period. The exhibit has since appeared in museums in the United States.
Along the Seine and across to the Ile de Cite, one of two natural islands in the river within the city. It is the center of Paris, where the medieval city was founded. On the island is Notre Dame, the famous cathedral.
Some visitors climb the stairs to the towers of the cathedral, where vast views of the city are a delight.
The other must-see museum in Paris is the Musee Rodin, which is situated on something of an estate, the grounds encompassing the small museum, which contains some of Rodin’s pieces, and the house where Rodin lived, where more works can be seen. The house is surrounded by a sculpture garden, where many copies of his works, including the The Thinker and the emotionally riveting Burghers of Calais, can be seen. There are apparently 12 casts of this statue, one of them at the Paris museum, others all over the world. Throughout the garden are individual versions of the burghers so that you can see their faces, the twists of their bodies, up close.