(click on pictures to enlarge)
I know Paris fairly well having lived there for six months many years ago. However, I hadn’t been there for years so when two good friends who live there both persuaded me to visit, I decided that I should go.
My first evening was spent celebrating my friend Jill’s birthday at a restaurant on the Quay Montebello just across from Notre Dame cathedral, a delightful way to start my trip. What struck me apart from the restaurant’s good food was the absence of tourists in the area. I put this down to the fact that there had been an attack on a policeman in Notre Dame the day before but my impression was fortified over the week as, compared with Rome, there were much fewer tourists and no line-ups to get into the Louvre or other museums.Very pleasant for me but sad that that tourism has declined in France likely due to the fear of terrorism. I have always liked I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the entrance and this time, I was able to get an unobstructed view both from above and below. Usually, ‘below’ is always full of people.
Jill lives near the canal St. Martin and one morning I walked it’s entire (visible) length all the way to Park La Villette a huge space which was once home to abbatoirs and a national wholesale meat market. In 1974, the meat market was relocated and in 1984 Bernard Tschumi, in an urban re-development project, redesigned it as a park and a space for cultural enjoyment.
A science museum has been there for years and now a various exhibition and performance spaces have been added. The latest addition is the Philarmonie, a very grand and modern concert hall designed by Jean Nouvel. Again there was hardly anyone around and I had the place to myself which was a bit disconcerting as I imagine the park was designed with the concept of people milling around which I’m sure is the case at weekends.
My friend Nuala lives on the opposite side of the city and here in the Bois de Bologne is another new architectural masterpiece, the Fondation Louis Vuitton designed by Frank Geary. In true Geary style, it is a feat of engineering and serves as an exhibition space and auditorium. It must be amazing to attend a performance in the auditorium as it seems as if it is suspended over water.
The day we went, there was an exhibition of works by contemporary African artists. I was thrilled to see the stencils that William Kentridge had used for his grand project ‘Triumphs and Lamentations’ on the Tiber which I saw a few weeks while walking along the river here in Rome.
There were numerous exhibitions showing in Paris but one of the ones which particularly attracted me was called Picasso Primitif and featured the influence of African masks and sculptures on his art. A strong influence on much of his work when you see his paintings and sculptures side by side with the African ones. There were photographs showing his many studios over his lifetime all with various African masks and sculptures.
Also interesting for me was the museum in which the exhibition was held, the Musee du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. Appaently, Jacques Chirac had a strong interest in non-European art and artefacts and his memorial to the city of Paris, if you could call it that, was this museum. Built by Jean Nouvel in a very different style from the Philarmonie, it was built as a collaborative project with the landscape architct Gilles Clement. Greenery, including a lot of non-native plants, surrounds the building with a wall of plants on the side facing the Quay and gives a sense of being in an exotic wild location. When you’re in the garden, it’s hard to imagine that just over the wall is the city of Paris.
Back to Picasso, I must say he must have had a good sense of humour. I was amused by this photo of him and his friend Ernest Ascher on vacation in the south of France. Needless to say, we know who must have done the body painting. After all the wine and delicious meals I had in Paris, my stomach is in danger of reaching similar proportions. In case you’re wondering, I will not be regaling you with a body painting of it in a future post……….