My Second Favorite Place in the WorldPosted: May 9, 2012
Favorite place in the world: Home.
Second favorite place in the world: Paris.
When I was probably seven or eight years old, my mom gave me a storybook called Bijou, Bon-Bon, and Beau as a gift after one of my dance recitals (she sat through at least one of these recitals every spring for ten years to watch me dance for 5 minutes out of a 3 hour recital – you rock, Mom!). This story is about three kittens living in a ballet studio in Paris. During the opening night of the new ballet, the kittens get on stage and become the adored stars of the show. I loved this book, which is illustrated with paintings by the French Impressionism painter Edgar Degas. Today, I have two adorable little kitties of my own named after the kittens from this book – Bijou and Beau (I’m still working on Mom for a Bon-Bon). But I think this book and Degas’ paintings are what started my admiration of French Impressionism.
So, when I found out that DIS offered a course on French Impressionism that culminated in a study tour to Paris, I signed up ASAP. It was fun learning about this art movement when we were in class in Copenhagen, but I will never forget these three days I got to spend in Paris. I loved every moment of it.
We arrived Thursday late Thursday night, went to bed, and woke up early for a bus tour of the city. Our teacher, Suzanne, is wonderful and has done this tour with students many times, so she had set up a really great day for us. We had one of her Swedish friends giving us a pretty intensive history lesson as we drove around for a few hours to see all the major sights in the city – the Opera, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, government buildings, etc.
I was actually surprised at how huge the Eiffel Tower is. I knew it was big, but once you get under the base of it, you just go “WOW!”
The building that houses Napoleon’s tomb.
That afternoon, we went with our tour guide to the Palace of Versailles. There is nothing human about that place. Not a single corner is left undecorated, and they used gold like it was paint. What started as a hunting lodge became the largest – and probably the most extravagant – palace in the world when King Louis XIV turned it into his permanent residence in the 1670’s. The palace is one thing, and then you get to the 1,000 acres of gardens and the amazement continues. Here are some highlights:
The middle part of the palace. Just the middle.
Hall of Mirrors – the room where good old America became an official country (in the eyes of Europeans) with the Treaty of Versailles.
Marie Antoinette’s bed & jewelry box
Out in the gardens – as you can tell, the threat of rain was pretty ominous all afternoon. There was a 100% chance of rain that day, but the only sprinkles we saw came when we were on the tour bus!
We got back to the city in time for happy hour, and after that I went with my roommates to the restaurant next to our hotel where I had one of the most delicious and adventurous meals of my life.
Here’s our hotel on the right, and the restaurant on the left. We stayed in an awesome location on the left bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter of the city. Saint Germian – a great shopping street – was right up the road.
Beef with bearnaise sauce, roasted green beans, salad, red wine, cheese & a baguette. Our dinner conversation was limited to chewing and a few utterances of variations of the phrases: “This is so good” and “I am so happy right now”.
And here it is. Me eating a snail. I loved it!
So, Friday was focused on becoming familiar with the setting of the French Impressionism movement, and Saturday was the day to actually see the result. We went first thing in the morning to l’Orangarie, which houses the crowning jewel of Impressionism: Monet’s Water Lilies. These paintings are the culmination of his life work, and are so beautiful.
There are two rooms of lilies, one of a day scene and another of a night scene – very typical of an Impressionism artist, as they were all obsessed with light. Each room is oval-shaped, and you are surrounded everywhere by this water scene. We had, of course, seen recreations of this masterpiece in class, but being in front of it was an entirely different experience. It was wonderful. I loved it. I’m going back.
The Lourve was actually not a part of our study tour because it only houses art work that dates up to the beginning of the 19th century, and Impressionism really took form around 1860. Thus, we went to the d’Orsay, which is a converted train station on the other side of the River Seine from the Louvre. There, we had a personal tour from an American PhD student. He showed us all of the paintings we had seen in recreation in our studies, and I think everyone enjoyed this museum the most. It really is paradise for an Impressionism lover. Degas, Monet, Sisley, Manet, Renoir, Pissaro everywhere you look. Of course, I got super excited whenever I saw a Degas that had been used in the storybook I told you about earlier (they were usually a lot smaller than I expected). But my favorite of all was Renoir’s Dance at le Moulin de la Gallete. This one:
And it’s a huge painting. In person, it really does look like the light is sparkling down on the people through the trees. The Impressionists were criticized immensely for this type of light-focused work, which lead them to use seemingly strange colors. I think you can see this use of color best in the dancing woman’s dress on the left. There are blues and oranges and greens all over her “white” dress. Renoir painted it this way because this is what he saw – the light from her surroundings reflecting on her dress. Same with the speckles on the black coat (actually, impressionists never used the color black, so that color is actually a layer of many others) of the man sitting in the foreground with his back turned.
Impressionism was considered to be “modern art” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because the techniques were completely radical. The artists did not use fine, detailed brush strokes, and instead employed a wide and imprecise technique that made people – especially the jury at the Salon – say that their works looked unfinished. They also were the first to really focus on painting the common folk instead of religious figures, royalty, or mythological characters. This change in subject suddenly allowed art to be enjoyed by everyone – not just those who were familiar with religion and mythology.
So the d’Orsay was awesome, and now that we had accomplished a lot of what Paris does best (museums), we went out to do the next best thing (shopping).
I got a new Longchamp bag at their Paris location – so fun :)
Next we toured the inside of the Opera House. There’s me on the right!
Inside, it is so regal and overly-detailed that it made me look at the Danish Royal Theater and go pssshhhhhh. Must watch Phantom of the Opera ASAP.
Then after getting crepes in the park Tuileries, I went to the Louvre. My awesome Paris tour guide book got me in and out of that monstrous museum in 30 minutes!
There’s the museum and Mona. Going on a Saturday afternoon meant that the place was PACKED, so I was glad I had just a few pieces I wanted to focus on and a plan to tackle them.
That night, our class went on a riverboat dinner cruise down the Seine. Usually I am speculative about these types of cruises because they’re generally just a tourist trap, but this dinner was delicious and, even though it rain, we were able to see a lot out of the glass windows that encased us.
One of Paris’ three Statues of Liberty. Oh, and the Eiffel Tower. So beautiful.
Finally, we had a good party of the day on Sunday to do a little bit more exploring. We went to Notre Dame for a morning service, and then explored the Jewish Quarter on the right bank.
It’s really beautiful in front, but even more beautiful is the back, with it’s flying buttresses and classic gothic architecture – especially admirable when all lit up at night!
The Jewish Quarter and some of the areas surrounding it are really unique because they were left untouched with Napoleon III decided to re-face all of Paris. He did this in collaboration with an architect name Haussmann, and it was their mission to make the city look like a castle everywhere you went. Even though this area is different from the rest of Paris, it still has a lot of character.
OK, this post is getting really wordy, so I am going to wrap it up with some more pictures of the Jewish quarter and by saying that Paris is my favorite trip this semester, probably my last one, and I will be back in my favorite place in the world – home! – in less than two weeks.