Good Travel Timing and Monet in Paris

Posted on January 4, 2014. Filed under: Art, France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

Paris - Monet ExhibitWe happened to be in Paris in November, 2010, right in the middle of the biggest exhibition of Monet’s works to be shown in France in 30 years.  160 paintings were gathered from around the globe; private collections and museums as far away as Russia and Australia.  We discovered the exhibit by the absence of Monet paintings at the Musée d’Orsay and the sign telling us that the Monets were all at the Grand Palais for a special exhibit.

So we wandered over the bridge to the Grand Palais to find out that the exhibit was sold out months ago.  There was a 1/4 mile line of people waiting for a chance to get in without advance tickets, but after waiting for hours it was still iffy whether they’d get in.  We spoke to one of the guards for advice.  What could we do to get in, we asked him.

Ha, ha!  He told us if we came back in the evening we would only have to wait a short time!  So, we came back the next day about 9:00p.m. and almost waltzed right in!

And then our eyes almost popped out.  We got to see Monet paintings that we would never see again nor would we have had the opportunity to ever see if we hadn’t made it into this exhibit.  We saw groups of paintings he did in different light right next to each other.  I loved to think how some of these paintings probably hadn’t been right next to each other like that since they were with their creator.  I got to see some old favorites that I had seen in the Chicago exhibit of impressionism several years back.  My heart broke to see his portrait of his wife, Camille, as she lay dying in bed, but I was lifted to see his depiction of a Magpie in the snow.  It was great, too, how we were walking through the galleries with no crowds.  There were barely any other people there to block our views.

There were only two downsides.  We weren’t allowed to walk backward through the exhibit which we love to do one time to play our game of picking out the one we’d take home if we could.  Also the curators included some Roy Lichtenstein paintings perhaps as a more modern progression of what Monet started, but really, they looked so out of place here.  We just ignored them, though, no problem.

This show was an icing-on-the-cake experience for us.  We were in Paris, so we were seeing amazing art every day, but to have been there for this show and to have gotten in was truly magical.  We will never forget it.  Here’s another travel bonus:  once-in-a-lifetime experiences!

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Paris – The Musée de l’Orangerie Basement!

Posted on August 17, 2013. Filed under: Art, France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Paris - Musée de l'Orangerie basement 1The spectacular Musée de l’Orangerie has the enormous Monet waterlily series of paintings and it blows you away to walk amid his ponds.  But that’s upstairs!  Don’t miss the light-flooded basement, the Walter-Guillaume galleries, reopened after extensive construction in 2006.

There are some jewels here:  Renoir and Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse.  22 Soutines!  And a particular favorite of mine:  Kees van Dongen who I love because of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Woman with Cat.

Paris - Musée de l'Orangerie basement 5What a great place to learn about art by reproducing it.  I remember my last year of high school at the Milwaukee Art Museum where there is a painting I hated (Fragonard’s The Shepherdess.)  My teacher had me spend several hours with it, drawing it, and I fell in love with it.  There is much to be learned from copying another’s work.

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This place was quite a feast for the eyes.  Next time you get to Paris don’t miss it!

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The Image Thief at the Musée d’Orsay

Posted on July 30, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Photography | Tags: , , , , , |

Travel - Musée d'Orsay 1Ok, so l have no beef with the Musée d’Orsay as far as the building and the collection goes.  How could I?  This museum houses some of the most important works of the period 1848 to 1914 especially of the impressionism movement in a refurbished train station designed in 1900.

You want to know my beef?  No photography.  Ok, I get that a lot of people are really stupid with their cameras and they don’t know how to turn off the flash.  I used to work in an art museum and I know that people don’t understand the harm that can be produced when millions of people flash a super bright light at artworks, if only for a split-second.  It’s a very destructive force over time.    But a flat-out ban on photography turns people like me into an image thief.

So here is the best I could do with the over-the-top beautiful clock at The Musée d’Orsay.  I had to stay somewhat behind the wall there to be out of view of the guards.

Travel - Musée d'Orsay 2This was a bit better because the sculpture was already behind this wall.

Taking pictures in museums is great fun and I understand the rock and hard place museums are in.  I just protest the stance of no photography!

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Oh, the Paris Food Shops!

Posted on June 6, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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I was so glad we had a kitchen in Paris so we could shop the food shops.  Where else could you see a little dog out for his walk have a conversation with the butcher?  This little guy was so persuasive he actually got the man to throw him a raw meatball which he caught and inhaled expertly!

The glorious birds above have some feathers, feet and heads on so the buyer is certain what they are getting.  We are not used to seeing this much animal when we are buying meat, but maybe it would be better if we did.  An appreciation for a life given to feed ours would not hurt us one bit.  And I’m telling you these would be scrumptious!

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Here is our neighborhood charcuterie, or delicatessen to us, which was a tiny place displaying everything in the front with the kitchen in the back.  The man here was soooo nice, helping us all in French and throwing in some gougères (Goo-ZHAIR) just for us, “To try.”  These little cheese puff balls melted in the mouth – so unassuming looking – but a powerhouse of flavor!  Of course he gave us 2 which was a good thing because if I’d have known how good they were I’d have bought and eaten about a dozen which would have been a big mistake.  We were living by the French idea of, “Small quantity, big quality.”  I savored that tiny ball.

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There is the cheesemonger and she is smiling as though she is very nice, but she is disgusted with me!  I didn’t know the rules of the cheese shop which I found out later.  You must ask the expert-lady for her help in selecting the perfect cheese for when you wish to eat it.  Each one has a perfect time to eat it and she has this secret knowledge.  I bumbled in and stupidly pointed to what I wanted to buy.  Talk about not understanding a culture.  Oh well, at least she smiled for my photo!

The coffee roaster guy, on the other hand was so delighted that we came in and showed interest in his process.  He explained everything, how there is a science and an art to roasting each type of bean perfectly.  What a delight!  We learned a lot, bought coffee to drink on the spot and to take away.  We wanted to stay because it smelled so good in this little shop.

Travel - Paris Shops 3Lastly, a scene like this warms my heart.  The big doggie can wait outside without concern outside the shop.  You can walk with your dog everywhere and just leave him for a time.  Not to worry.

Yesterday at the huge food store off the interstate I was scared to leave my 2 dogs in the locked car for fear someone would break in and steal them to sell on a street corner in the city for a couple bucks.  I would love this freedom Parisians and their dogs enjoy.

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An Eyeful on Paris Streets

Posted on May 16, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

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You do not have to have a destination in Paris when you set out to walk the streets.  I think it is impossible to find nothing interesting.  We saw this enormous bubble-maker behind Notre Dame almost at sunset when the light was hitting the bubble so gorgeously.  Spellbinding for young and old alike!

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In front of Notre Dame Cathedral were some bird men who held seed in their hands and the sparrows came to roost and eat.  This was also fascinating to watch.  Apparently they do it a lot so that the birds have gotten over their fear of humans.  I wished I could speak French to the old man and ask how many years he’s been feeding the birds.

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Especially at night the city enchants.  Where else do you find a wall of blue lights?  This was November and the city was gearing up for Christmas.  Gorgeous!

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Lastly is the lady with 5, yes five, Chihuahuas all dressed up and out for a stroll in the Latin Quarter.  She didn’t like me, but, come on, you are walking 5 dressed up chihuahuas and you don’t expect any attention?

We were always on our way to somewhere, but we always found interesting things going on right in the streets to entertain us on our way!  Paris never disappoints.

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Travel Journals

Posted on May 3, 2013. Filed under: France, Italy, Paris, Rome, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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I have 3 travel journals now.  The first one I kept in 2009 for our trip to Florence, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre.  The second was Paris in 2010.  This last one was to document our hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2012.  Trips move along pretty fast.  I find writing for even a few minutes each evening before sleep caps off the day for me.  It lets my mind go because the little booklet has the details recorded.

I’ve gotten more sophisticated in my travel journaling.  Back in 2009 I mostly recorded just a list of what we did each day.  For example, my second day entry reads, “Academia-David, San Marco (Monastery)-Fra Angelico frescoes, Duomo climb! and Duomo Museum.  Even this trip, though, I started to get more involved in the tiny details.  The beginning of my last day entry for our trip home:  “Up early, breakfast in little bags on chair outside our door – Luca takes good care of us.  Walk to bus station (right next to train station).  Quiet, sunny morning.  Stopped briefly to take one breath and one last look @ Duomo and our home piazza.  Bought bus ticket – on to bus after just a 10 min. wait – perfetto!”

In Paris I wrote many, many pages each day with all the sensual delights of the city recorded that I could remember.  “…So, then a little walking, we split a small salmon quiche on the street and a lovely almond-filled croissant.  Also bought chocolàt cake and a jelly-filled bengiet (for Billy) for dessert tonight.  We took the 95 bus home – but VERY crowded and now tea and lovely little mandarin oranges from Spain with the leaves still on!  …the plan is to have our dinner and then head out to see if we can get into the special Monet exhibit at the Grand Palais.”  (I will have to tell you the rest of THAT story soon!)

By the time I started my third journal last September on our hiking trip I was completely ready.  I had my little composition book and pens.  I started in the airport as we were delayed in Canada.  I finished in the air over the Atlantic Ocean.  This book includes our daily experiences and I even branched out into poetry!  This was quite a hoot to read aloud to our dinner companions!  Here is one of my creations:

Mont Blanc Tour

Sunrise on mountains

Rushing waters flow

Step lively up and down

Listen to the cows

their bells musical

Vast space

out and around

New friends right here

Wine and cheese

Laughter to cheer

Sleep deeply

A really great thing to do in a travel journal is to make a list of future dos/don’ts.  I usually put these kinds of nuts and bolts notes at the back.  So I have packing suggestions, and other notes like these from Paris, “An apartment was a great idea.  We saved boo-koo bucks having a kitchen.  Also, really felt very much like we lived here these 2 weeks!” and “Yes, bring ipod, but consider a small speaker to have tunes in the apartment at night.”

Next time?  It will be a bit bigger and include both words and pictures!  I can’t wait to try little sketches.  The hard part is saving a little time and energy to compose something each day.  It is a little bit of a job, but the memories these rekindle when I look at them are well worth it.

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Visit the Louvre at Night!

Posted on May 2, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

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When we were in Paris there was one night in the week when the Louvre was open until 10:00p.m.  We decided to avoid the daytime crowds and go for the evening.  What a good decision!

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The museum is magical at night.  Dramatic lighting on white marble sculpture against the backdrop of the city was breathtaking.

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After a quick and disappointing look at the Mona Lisa who is sadly trapped behind so much bullet-proof glass and still mobbed by tourists even at night, we explored completely deserted galleries of Dutch and Flemish paintings.  Turning a corner, our breath would be snatched away to stand, unobstructed, in front of some of the most iconic pieces of western art.  It was astonishing to be so alone with these masterpieces.

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Then we wandered into the Babylonian works.  I was blown away by the meticulous craftsmanship of these massive carvings.  And the history!  To see the actual Law Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, 18th century B.C. was marvelous.  This basalt stele was one of many erected in various parts of the kingdom to demonstrate the king’s sovereignty, outline examples of the law’s application, provide a history of his rule, and provide direction for the future.  It was revolutionary for its time to actually inform the people of the law!  This whole section of the Louvre could be worthy of a complete trip to the museum.  We were sorry we didn’t have more time.

Next time we won’t even waste a moment seeking out the tourist draws.  This museum has stellar offerings that probably get overlooked by most people.  We will definitely be back at night!

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Shakespeare and Company, Paris – Having Fun with the Tourists

Posted on April 20, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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We had to visit the iconic Shakespeare and Company on the left bank when in Paris.  The original location was popular with struggling writers and artists like Hemmingway.  To this day there are little cots here and there in the claustrophobic interior which are occupied by starving artists at night, or so the story goes.

We had a bit of fun with another tourist who was sitting in an upper room reading.  I told Bill to, “Sit in the blue chair, Hemmingway’s chair, and I’ll take your picture.”  The tourist, bless his heart, jumped up and said, “Excuse me, that’s Hemmingway’s chair?!”  We could have easily continued the scam, but we laughed and I fessed up to my active imagination.  I’m sure if the roles were reversed I would have reacted exactly the same way!

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It was a fun little nook to visit, and while in the neighborhood, we checked out the Abbey as well, owned by a Canadian, who purportedly gives away free coffee with maple syrup in it which is difficult to find in Paris.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited, the person in charge was in an animated telephone conversation the whole time we were there and we weren’t offered any coffee.  Oh well, as a book lover, it is just really nice to see these tiny spaces crammed full of books, books, books!

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Sonia Delaunay at the Centre Georges Pompidou

Posted on April 15, 2013. Filed under: Art, France, Paris | Tags: , , , , , |

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The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris is a really fun modern art museum to explore.  The building itself is pretty interesting.  You enter the art museum part through a long tunnel of escalators on the outside of the building.  Then you can wander around and feast your eyes on all sorts of iconic and also obscure pieces of modern art.  Some of it makes you scratch your head and wonder, “This is art?”  For example, the retrospective of Arman, on display when we went showed his collections of garbage from New York City dumpsters sealed in plexiglass since the 1960s.  Ick is all I say!

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But I discovered and instantly liked Sonia Delaunay’s strong colors and geometrics.  The place really gets you to think about what you are seeing.  These paintings just made me feel good.  I don’t enjoy art that makes me uncomfortable.  It might be “important” in someone’s estimation, but it’s like the play that tries to ram culture down your throat by being impossible to follow and so long that it needs 2 intermissions.  Ok, but if I don’t enjoy it, you’ve lost me.  I’m sure there are a lot of important things to understand about Sonia Delaunay, but I can just look and enjoy the good feeling.  That’s enough for me!

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E. Dehillerin: A Paris Culinary Landmark

Posted on April 10, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

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Having read about the famous cookware shop in Paris, E. Dehillerin I had to go when in town!  Established in 1820 and not really changed since then, it is a bit of a step back in time.  It is a pleasure to stroll the aisles and look at all the amazing cookware.  I really, really, really wanted a knife and/or a Staub cast iron pot, but alas, I left with a few wooden stirrers and a small stack of porcelain bowls because the prices were BIG and that cast iron is rather heavy to carry through airports so I thought better of it afterall.

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The copper pots are prolific and gorgeous.  The service, hmmm… rather aloof and difficult to ask questions like prices (much is not marked and they aren’t too happy to dig through their enormous price books to find it for you.)  I’m sure the tourists are quite a bore so I don’t really blame them.  It was a fun experience nonetheless and I would recommend walking through.  Also check out the other cookware shops nearby.  There are 3 or 4 more interesting little nooks scattered in the neighborhood.

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