Sunday, June 30, 2013


Wednesday my car was having its oil changed and its brakes serviced.  But it was also the day I have lunch with my daughter, Veronica.  We often meet at Tangerine because the jazz is great, the food is fresh and healthy, and it's close to her office.  Tangerine is certainly within walking distance from home (given all the walking I did in Paris, perhaps anywhere on Regina's bike paths is close to home), so I set out a little early so nab a table in this very busy "food bar."  I was a little startled to rediscover how wonderful walking is.  What I found was how joyously all my senses were aroused.  In The Critique of Judgment, Kant talks about one of the world's minor miracles:  how it seems that the world around us appeals so perfectly to our senses, how we and the world seem made for each other.  Yesterday I felt as if the sensuous world celebrated my senses:  as if the play of light and shadow, the flashing green leaves, the roses and Stella d'Oro lilies, the bright blue dragonflies were made for my eyes.  The wind seemed made to remind me how wonderful skin is, the bird song made to remind me how to listen to the world beneath the city's perpetual growl.  The smell of mown grass--is someone always mowing the grass on perfect summer days, or does a perfect summer day have its perfection completed by the smell of grass?--and of my Henry Hudson roses, which you can smell from the sidewalk in front of my house, reminded me that one of the difficulties of winter is that is has no smell.  Any Saskatchewan poet will tell you how the light and the skies are different here.  Even over the trees of Wascana Park, the whiter-than-white clouds looked monumental and serene.

On Thursday, nature was back on the menu with the dinner at the Hotel Saskatchewan marking the end of Margaret Atwood's and Graeme Gibson's time here touring Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and some of the PFRA pastures in the southwest corner of the province.  A remarkable video by Red Studio Productions allowed us to see something of what Atwood and Gibson, guided by Trevor Herriot, saw in their days here.  My walk down College Avenue reminded me that we don't really see the world from the window of a car, or we only see a kind of distant, mediated version that isn't unlike TV, our windshield our screen.  In the city, we mostly need to slow down to take a closer look.  The prairies, on the other hand, need two kinds of seeing:  we need to stop long enough to take in the shapes, the camber of the landscape.  In many parts of the province, prairie isn't simply flat.  The province has been a sea; its skin has been rubbed and sculpted by glaciers several times over.  What we see from a car window as we boot down the Number 1 at 110 km/hr isn't really prairie.  But the prairie also longs to be see close up:  there is so much that's beautiful going on, especially on land that hasn't been turned over to industrial farming.

Because this was a Saskatchewan event, it began with lots and lots of thanks, from Trevor, and from one of our co-hosts, Candace Savage.  Trevor in particular established one of the evening's motifs:  there are stories and they need to be told.  (Please see his blog, Grass Notes for the stories he has to tell.  I'll give you a link below.)  The provincial government's decision to attempt to lease or sell the lands doesn't simply operate on some abstract  principle (however wrong-headed) that dictates letting the market and free enterprise decide policy issues.  There are people--farmers, cattlemen, and stewards--whose lives are dramatically affected by that principle; there are subtle, beautiful and delicately-balanced ecosystems that have been healthy for the 75 years  of  PFRA stewardship that are being put at risk. Trevor told us that Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is one of the quietest places on the planet--not to mention extraordinarily beautiful.  Yet budget cuts there have left no one to manage the bison herd.

Sheila Coles introduced Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood by thanking them for "fixing your gaze firmly on Saskatchewan."  Gibson talked of our need to understand land that is "spectacular and wild" and of our need to support the people who live there, people who are concerned with the full implications of what they do on the land.  He spoke of a note of melancholy that pervaded his conversations with people who feel their government is betraying them by not approaching this complex problem with a plan that "makes sense."

Margaret Atwood, after establishing her nature credentials with stories about growing up in the northern Ontario bush, talked about the importance of an ecology that starts--in our case, literally--with the grass roots, with people who understand the land and can tell you what's changing.  She suggested that the decision to sell or lease the land had been made on a two-dimensional map, whereas land exists in four dimensions--the fourth being time. Both authors emphasized the fact that there is a knowledge, a lore, a library of knowledge gathered over time by the pasture managers and the pasture patrons that is not part of the government's decision-making process.  And they both emphasized the fact that the province is asking people to make decisions too quickly and without enough knowledge about what the province's goals are, what it wants to achieve, what is planned for these people and their landscape.  Atwood likened it to asking people to make a business plan without all the facts.   What the people that live with this land every day want from their leaders is respect for their knowledge and their way of life.

Earlier this week, David Suzuki write in his blog about the work of Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet, a psychologist at Trent University.  She has found that people who are connected to the natural world are, simply put, happier than people who don't feel this connection.  Her work puts all this talk about walking, about bird-watching, about the stewardship of the PFRA pastures, about the profound quiet that can be found in the Cypress Hills in a slightly different context.  What will happen to us when the land and light; the the darting, looping flights of barn swallows; the scent of roses; and the visual music of prairie grass is only defined by its market value?

You can help by signing the petition at Protect the Prairie.
Read about Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet's work here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hitting the reset button: being where you are

 During my last couple of days in Paris, Rilke's puzzling close to his poem, "Archaic Torso of Apollo," "You must change your life," came back to me again and again.  It became almost an ear worm, one of those phrases of music, usually banal and repetitive,  you can't get out of your head.  But one can't think of Rilke as a mere ear worm, so I kept querying the phrase.  I had learned a couple of things from the French--or at least I thought I had, which comes to the same thing.  They seemed not to scurry frantically, the way we do.  (They don't even text as they walk down the street, for example:  too many unpredictable tourists or a more reasonable philosophy of life?--you choose.)  A little searching on Google told me that they have a 35-hour work week, yet that French workers are among the most productive in the world.  They also seemed to find space in their lives for pleasure.  I began to wonder whether the lousy work-life balance in North America actually makes us less productive because we spend far too much time worrying about or complaining about how busy we are.  Perhaps in the world of work less might sometimes be more.

"You must change your life" seemed to me to point to my need to get back to my work on the Woolf book, but this has been frustrated this week by two things.  One is that I'm on the department's hiring committee for a replacement of Heather Meek--as if Heather could be replaced!  Hence large parts of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday involved meeting candidates, lunching with them, and even showing them around Regina and the university.  Large parts of Monday and Tuesday were also taken up with administrivia, while on Thursday I supposedly learned how to become the graduate chair.  I did read some criticism on Three Guineas, but for the most part thinking about Woolf was sequestered in small corners of time.  I wasn't entirely frustrated.  For one thing, all our candidates were excellent, so learning what they were working on was a pleasure and showing one easterner around U of R and Regina made me see the city and the university anew.  The candidates were all great company.  But more than that, when they asked about like in the Department, I was reminded how much affection and respect I have for my colleagues, which is not a bad way to begin one's last year of work.  Besides, for a whole host of reasons, I found myself relaxing into being satisfied with whatever experience I was having at the time.

I've been working at being satisfied with where I am for quite a long time.  Katherine Arbuthnott taught me several years ago that human beings don't multi-task very well, and I realized that trying to accomplish things while you're worrying about what you aren't getting done is, in effect, multi-tasking.  So for the most part, I can now make a list, take a few extra minutes to ensure I've got my priorities straight, and then just proceed.  This strategy makes me more efficient and less frustrated, but not satisfied exactly.  Then I learned another lesson about a year ago in the bra department of Sears--a banal place to learn a lesson.  It was early on a Sunday and the single clerk was helping someone else.  I was looking for a strapless bra and not finding anything, so I simply waited patiently.  When my turn came, the clerk apologized profusely for not getting to me earlier.  "That's okay.  I'm not the only person on the planet," I assured her.  I suddenly realized, perhaps counter-intuitively, that I didn't have time to spend being impatient.  Or to put it another way that makes more sense, having my mortality made so clear by the deaths of my parents and friends made me realize that time is too short to be inside a mood that's unpleasant and inside a situation you can do nothing about except to shape your reactions.

My body has also conspired.  Last weekend that hot poker under my shoulder blades I wrote about a couple of months ago came again, this time pinching a nerve in my left arm.  There's suddenly a lot I can't do without a considerable amount of pain, though I found this morning that I could stay quite still with an ice pack on my shoulder blade and read pages and pages of Carol Shields's The Stone Diaries, which I'm teaching in the fall.  Sitting quietly, which is the best thing for preventing pain, gave me time to think about my classes next year.  There has to be something either perverse or typical or inspired about the fact that in my final year of teaching I have two new classes and that I am seeing their structure more clearly than I usually do in June.

What do I want to do most of all right now?  I want to concentrate, focus, not flit from thing to thing the way I'm forced to do when I'm teaching.  Even the idea of reaching some kind of goal--two more chapters for the book on Virginia Woolf's aesthetics should be my summer goal, but I'm just going to put that by the side right now--is beside the point.  Be inside your moment, with as little pain as possible.

And of course, the French, with their glorious joie de vivre, have helped.  Oddly enough, they make hard work seem decadent, if you can just spin a little bit of a French accent around spending a rainy Sunday reading exquisite, humane prose and thinking about the structures and ideas of the novel that lie behind its witty surface.

The photograph above was taken in Saint-Germaine-des-Pres; it's a room off the main part of the cathedral and looked like the perfect space for reflection.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Final days in Paris

Yes, of course we occasionally behaved like tourists.  We took the Metro to the base of Montmartre, winding our way through the streets and up the stairs to that over-decorated wedding cake of a church, Sacra Coeur.  We took an odd way, though, through streets of fabric shops filled with the most appalling prints.  Then we took an unusually circuitous route upward so Veronica could take some photographs.  My favourite is of an open window with a beautiful staircase just beyond it.  We walked  straight through  tourist land, with its souvenirs, though had to fight our way through tourists photographing themselves in tourist land:  no simple little streets for them.  What is it we're all looking for? I wondered.  They want to record the experience of being a tourist, perhaps of following millions of tourists before them.  While we want a different kind of experience, in spite of the fact that we're...tourists.  This led me to think about the reality of our experience here.

For instance, I've drawn some conclusions about French children and how they play, though these have been based on the riotous, joyous sounds of children behind the walls of their schoolyards (yes, there always seem to be walls) or children in gardens.  Yet whose parents take children to gardens?  I have also come to the conclusion that the French are perhaps less obsessed about work than we are.  They have a 35-hour work week, yet they imagine to be among the most productive societies.  They seem to go out onto the street for smoke breaks, but certainly aren't hurrying to get back into the office.  They seem to take lunch with friends.  When we visited the Musee Marmotten-Monet, which is slightly off the beaten track, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant where we heard nothing but lively conversations all in French.  Yet unless I do a study of the people who work in the highrises we saw when we made our one Metro mistake and got on the wrong train in a line that divided in two, I have no idea what the French worker really thinks or does. We ate crepes on the street, something we have seen French people doing; while I enjoyed the dark chocolate folded into a freshly-made crepe, I felt like I was having a slightly fraudulent experience.

I made even wilder generalizations when we took the Metro from Montmartre to La Bon Marche, Paris's oldest department store, where I bought a thimble.  No, that's not a typo.  We went directly to the store's much-praised selection of buttons, fabrics, and wool, but could find little, except in the way of buttons, that we couldn't find in Regina.  They did, however, have whole wooden cases of thimbles that you could actually try on, and I found one that fit.  I have a single comfortable thimble, and lord help me if Sheba ever turns it into a toy.  Their beautiful stationary department still has inserts for Filofaxes and beautiful, leather-covered address books in purple and ruby red; have they forgotten that we live in the twenty-first century and that cell phones and email programs contain all the names and addresses one needs?.  I saw some lovely blue Moleskine notebooks, but I try to buy those from Paper Umbrella on 13th because I love that shop and want to support it.  We went up to the floor of women's clothing where we found haute style and even haute-er price tags.  In the midst of the stylish beige and black and soft blue we saw a pair of pink sandals with heels about six inches high.  The heels were actually a pair of plastic poodles sitting up that had rhinestone collar on.  Out of curiosity, I turned the show over and looked at the price:  1,345 Euros.  No, that's not a typo either.  Having seen countless French women--every one of them with a scarf--I can't make any generalizations about French style, except to say that we looked like tourists because we'd brought shawls and not scarves.

Occasionally as we were walking down a street, a couple of gates were opened into a courtyard with further doors beyond.  This perhaps is my metaphor for my minimal understanding of Paris:  there is simply so much we do not see in the public spaces.  On our way to the airport, we learned that even Parisians get caught in traffic jams, that they have a box store land, and that Parisian kids (at least one presumes  it's kids) love doing graffiti.  Every possible surface is covered, and in the Metro, on walls where there is really no space, people have left their signatures and drawings.  One suspects this work is done on a dare, between trains.

But Parisians write on their city in other creative ways.  During our last couple of days, when we were looking for presents to bring back, we made our way to a small shop called "Lil Weasel" in one of the arcades we hadn't traveled to on our first day there.  Three stories high, covered in glass, it is a lovely space with black wrought iron gates that are probably closed when none of the shops are open.  Lil Weasel, we suspect, yarn-bombed the gates with imaginative arrangements of bright knitted sea anemones, seaweed, and crocheted flowers.

Their buildings tell us something about their historical sense.  Central Paris--the tourists' Paris--has probably changed very little over the last century, though occasionally we found a row of shops with apartments above that had a simpler, more modern architecture.  At the same time, Paris seems always under repair.  On a walk of about half an hour, you will doubtless come across someone doing repairs to windows or painting trim or fixing a doorway:  there are ladders and tradesmen everywhere weaving in the loose ends of very old architecture.  Nowhere is this clearer than in their cathedrals.  We went into several of the smaller churches when we saw their doors were open, and Veronica would look all around and point out the early Norman arches of the nave, which was clearly built first.  Then Gothic arches take over, and perhaps stained glass that is even more modern.  The need to keep up an old built environment or the architectural layers of the churches suggest that Parisians, and perhaps even Europeans, are aware of the historical layers that stand behind the present moment. 

Our visit to the Musee Marmottan-Monet is of a piece with this sense of the historical layers that make up almost any space in Paris.  The building on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne was originally the hunting lodge of the Duke of Valmy.  In 1882, it was bought by Jules Marmottan, who left it to his son Paul in 1882.  Paul was a collector of the art of the Napoleonic era.  In turn, he left the house and its collection to the Academie des Beaux Arts in 1934.  While Paul's collection remains in the house, two major donations shifted its focus.  One was the  gift of Victorine Donop de Monchy of her father's collection of Impressionist paintings.  Doctor Georges de  Bellio had been the physician of Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, and Renoir, and had collected their work. In 1966, Monet's second son Michel donated his collection of his father's work, making the Musee Marmottan-Monet the largest collection of Monets in the world.  The house also holds the Waldenstein collection of Mediaeval illuminated manuscripts.  The Musee also hosts special exhibitions, in our case the work of modernist painters Marie Laurencin, a contemporary of Bracque, Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Delauney, and Derain, and the partner and muse of Guillaume Apollinaire.  While she was part of the cubist and Fauves circles, her work has of course been ignored in the broad swathes of art history that infamously and dishonestly edit the details of a period to a few "greats."

 So one's experience of the museum is slightly jerky:  you move from rooms full of portraits of  heroes of the Napoleonic period to gentle portraits of Berthe Morrisot and paintings of Monet.  Once you have finished the Laurencin exhibition, you again switch gears to look at the remarkable Mediaeval illuminated manuscripts.  The effect is a useful reality check, reminding you that any collection is, indeed, a collection:  that is a reflection of individuals' choices and tastes, and that the historical narratives used to hold those choices together with an historical narrative is ultimately a simplification. 

There is another element of the Monet collection that calls coherence into question.  I believe it was Cezanne who commented that Monet "was only an eye--but what an eye!"  It is Monet's serene and beautiful canvases, whether of the Houses of Parliament of snowy streets or hay stacks, of his gardens and water lilies, that one first thinks of.  Yet this collection contains quite a number of later Monets from the war and from his old age that are decidedly atypical.  During the war, the brushwork in his paintings of his water lily garden becomes agitated and he tends not to finish the edges and the corners of the paintings, foregrounding the his questions about art and representation.  By the time he began his last paintings, Monet was well into his eighties and he no longer saw the colours that you and I tend to see in, say, a lily pond.  Suddenly, dark winy reds make their appearance into otherwise natural scenes.  Doubtless Monet knew that lily pads weren't deep red and could have also red the names on his tubes of paint, thus keeping the colours of his paintings "accurate."  For whatever reason, however, he decided that he would give us a chance to see through an old man's eyes.  The effect is moving and unsettling, in about equal parts.

On our last day in Paris, I needed a book for the long trip back to Regina, so we went hunting for Shakespeare and Company, a left bank book shop that takes its name from the earlier institution opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 that became a gathering place for expatriate writers like Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald, Stein, Man Ray, and Joyce.  The original closed during the German Occupation in 1940.  In 1951, George Whitman opened an English language bookstore in Paris that he called "Mistral," a name he changed  in tribute when Sylvia Beech died.  He termed it a "socialist utopia masquerating as a bookstore," and even had 15 beds where writers could sleep when they were in Paris.

I wanted serendipity to choose my book for me, so I picked up Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, about his life in Paris during the 20s, partly because I remembering loving it as an undergraduate and hadn't read it since then, partly because I was leaving Paris.  When I looked more carefully at its cover, I saw it was a photograph of the original shop with Sylvia Beach and Hemingway standing out in front of it.  When you buy your books at The Shakespeare Book Company, they offer to stamp it on the inside so you  have a record of where you bought it, a record that of, ourse resonates (whether you buy A Moveable Feast or not) back to before World War II.  My copy resonates doubly and perhaps even triply, since Hemingway talks about Beach's bookstore (which people often used more as a library), and because the stamp on the inside echoes the photograph on the outside.  In one of the later chapters, Hemingway, who hated Ford Maddox Ford with a passion that no one can quite explain, talks about sitting in his favourite cafe, the "Closerie de Lilas," "watching the light change on the trees and the buildings and the passage of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards."  Unfortunately, Ford came in and took over the scene with a conversation that Hemingway reports (how accurately is anyone's guess), leading Hemingway to report that "The light was changed again and I had missed the change." 

Fortunately, there was no Ford Maddox Ford in our evening, so after dinner Veronica and I walked to the end of the Isle de Cite, where you can watch the sun set over the Siene.  We saw for at least twenty minutes, sometimes watching people, sometimes watching the light.  We didn't lose a minute of it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

George Pompidou Centre for Art and Culture

On the first Sunday of the month, Paris does something very civilized:  it opens its art galleries free of charge to the public.  We'd decided to do the George Pompidou that day, and it took virtually the entire day.  We were inside the museum by 11 and left only for a lovely lunch before calling it a day at 6.  They have two immense floors, and since the floor for art between the 1960s and the end of the century came first, that's where we began.  We had none of those feelings of being bull-shitted that had infused our time at the gallery of contemporary art of Paris.  Rather, we went from profound moment to profound moment while also feeling the inherent playfulness of the art the gallery's curators had chosen.  Your first view is of Tinguely's "Requiem for a Dead Leaf," a giant mechanical set of wheels and gears from which a small white leaf hangs.  (You can see the leaf about of a third of the way from the right hand side of the photo below, hanging from the first vertical bar.)  The piece is of an overwhelming scale, and many visitors stopped to take pictures of it, as if acknowledging how its monumentality struck them.  It was created in the sixties, and is perhaps an expression of the environmental movement begun by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, where she argued that we could not continue to see industrial progress out of the context of the pollution it created, pollution which was damaging the environment.

Many of the pieces, interestingly, involved the experience of one's body--or the imagination of bodily experience.  The first of these was "The Winter Garden"  by Jean Dubuffet, which is a disorienting piece of art work that you actually enter and walk around inside.  It has Dubuffet's characteristic style--spaces of white outlined by unpredictable black lines--except that once you find yourself inside it, you discover how disorienting those shapes are; in addition, the floor was uneven, but the unevenness wasn't necessarily indicated by the black lines, so that space and line seemed to be on different planes.  Dubuffet manages to defamiliarize our experience of orienting ourselves and shows how fragile our sense of where we stand can be.  I tried to take a picture of it, but people kept going in and coming out, obscuring the space inside. 

The next remarkably physical work was Yaacov Agam's "Amenagement de l'antichambre," a room made of pleated walls; in turn, colour has been carefully applied to the backward or forward-leaning pleats while sometimes the opposite side was left white.  The result is that everywhere you stand gives you the sense of a different room.  To complicate our vision further, a chrome ball and triangle distort the walls around you.  This was another piece that people were quite willing to play with, walking back and forth, looking at the room through the coloured glass on either side, considering the chrome ball.  On the one hand, viewers are simply delighted by the play with colour; on the other hand, viewers may or may not be aware of the questions Agam is asking about how we see our world, how subtly it can be distorted, how many sides it can have.  Again, this speaks to the skill of the curators (not to mention the artists!).  Unlike those perhaps at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Paris, the Pompidou's don't try to put arguments on the walls, but to find ways of engaging with viewers.

 As well, there is no attempt on the part of the curators to pretend that art isn't, in some way or another, inherently political.  Another work that engaged people was called "Tutto" by Alighiero Boetti.  At first glance, it is rather  abstract and colourful.  But if you stand in front of it for any length of time at all, you find yourself recognizing countless objects.  It is entirely embroidered by Afghan workers after the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.  The artist worked on the shapes and arrangements, but left the choice of colours up to the artisans, with the proviso that there was the same amount of thread of each colour;  they could distribute it across the canvas as they liked.  There is actually seating in front of this piece (the galleries in Paris have, generally, way too little seating), and you could hear people calling out the shapes that they made out.

There was an entire room of "open work" inspired by artists like John Cage and Yoko Ono that made use of everyday objects in arrangements that gave them a significance they might not otherwise have.  My favourite of these was Robert Morris's "Card File."  You may have to be nearly as old as I am to remember these relics of office organization:  a long vertical file of see-through sleeves into which you could insert cards with categories on them.  Once you have established your filing principles, you can then file cards or slips of paper within the categories.  Morris's principles are quite intriguing; here is the selection from the "C" range:  cement, changes, communication, completion, conception.  Morris's work suggests that we might see ourselves, uncomfortably yet comfortingly, as having lives based on a series of principles or obsessions into which we might (sadly, perhaps) file our memories and our experiences.  One of the cards I photographed also suggests how we come back to concerns time and time again.

Two other artists also queried how we see ourselves.  One, so the didactic panel told us, had experienced something  like an identity crisis and had found about 100 identical biscuit tins into which he put everything that was in his studio.  Of course, the viewers of the artwork see only the rows of biscuit tins with cords running up them to the lights installed at the top, suggesting the extent to which this work is meant to live in a gallery.  So the artist as someone who accomplishes something was foregrounded.  In a second, there were boxes into which a photographer had put rolls of labelled but undeveloped film.  These works query who we are:  are we what we accomplish?  Are we our narratives or our memories?  Or are we experiences that are so rich and strange that no set of biscuit tins, let alone our own faulty memories, can contain everything?

The final work that really provoked us was "untitled" by Wade Guyton and Kelly Walker, though we came to call it "Yes, we have no bananas."  It is an installation of canvases that have been propped on the wall atop cans of paint whose labels suggest that when you roll it out you will have polka dots or checkerboards.  But there is one can, off to the left, that suggests it will allow you to paint bananas, though there are no bananas anywhere in the painting.  Again, this was a work with benches in front of it where people sat to puzzle out the fun, reminding me of Don McKay's reference to "homo ludens" while I was at Sage Hill.  We like to play.  It is one of our best ways of being thoughtful, critical, reflective.

At this point, we left the Pompidou for a lovely Italian lunch, returning to visit the galleries containing art made between 1905 and 1960. This is a more familiar narrative I can't relate with any fresh insights not already offered by art critics like Robert Hughes in Shock of the New.  The paintings on these floor was always  creative and adventurous, attempting to discover modernity as it unfolded, though the work created between the beginning of the First World War and the end of the Second was more often anxious, dark, pessimistic.  The work moved us both deeply, though we couldn't help being relieved, at the end of several miraculous hours, by the advent of the Sixties.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Markets, gardens, and a little art

We began Saturday planning to go to the Musee d'art contemporain de la ville de Paris--which is a ridiculously long name for an art gallery, but which Veronica and I had both enjoyed on our last trips about ten years ago.  The permanent collection contains some wonderful early twentieth century painting, including some lovely Bonnards and Vuillards and Chagalls--members of the Nabis and the Fauves.  But outside the museum there was a weekly street market that we thought we'd take in first. You could get almost everything there:  vegetables, fruit, plants, seafood, flowers, hats, shawls, lots of men's socks and hats, herbs.  Some stalls specialized in potatoes; others in mushrooms.  There was an enormous vat of paella.  Nikka tells me there were ells.
The market is a theatre all its own.  It brings out everyone:  the wealthy cook and the poor woman looking for a treat; the young who are looking for an unexpected adventure, and the old looking for the comfort and friendliness of their favourite stalls.  A nun in a white habit doing her shopping was treated with the greatest respect.

Once into the museum, we found ourselves disappointed.  There was some contemporary art that made me feel I was being bullshitted.  Four poorly knitted sweaters on a wall in awkward colour work of small squares of orange, gold, red, and blue represented the seasons?  A series of photographs taken from a window, all of which involved a wooden block placed on the window ledge, sometimes a square, sometimes a cylinder with a slanted top?  The photographs weren't even particularly interesting, though the exhibit also included the awkwardly carved and painted blocks.  The point of this is that we look for particular shapes in our urban landscape?  That what we see is shaped by how it is framed?  I'm not sure these ideas go beside Bonnard's lovely painting of the cherry pie.  Which we couldn't see because the permanent collection was closed for renovation as is the whole of the Picasso Gallery--another hoped-for destination.

So we had to make up the day as we went along.  My Paris book had told me about the Viaduc des Arts that had interesting shops underneath and a long Promenade Plantee on the train trestle that had once been above it, so we got out our Paris Metro map and found our way there.  The walk is wonderful:  the path is lined with roses, trees, shrubs, and plants of every kind.  In about two weeks, the whole place will smell of roses:  I have never seen rose bushes bloom so ecstatically.  The view of the streets as we passed them was also charming.  We caught the arrival of a wedding party, for example, or some nifty architecture.  While Napoleon III decided to create some wide, straight boulevard in order to be able to move troops more quickly and prevent the throwing of up barricades, Paris  is mostly an old city with meandering, crooked streets that the buildings must simply learn to live with.  There is almost a short cut somewhere, if you look for it.  But there are also several triangle tangles that you are going to hit in just the wrong way.  So enjoy the experience.
Parisians do street life in a way that we might see a little bit of in front of Atlantis Coffee or around the lake on lovely days.  We have speculated that many Parisians live in apartments above the shops that line the streets and that perhaps the lack of space there sends them down onto the street on lovely days.  It is also possible that they are simply so happy to have sunny, slightly warm days (today the high was 17 Celsius and many Parisians were in light coats), but interestingly, you don't make small talk about weather when you don't know the language.  We watched tourists with their maps, one of which asked us for help.  We watched grandfathers kick balls around toward grandsons as a way of burning off steam.  I remember that the last time I was here it saddened me to see streets without any trees, with not even any grassy boulevards; I wondered how Parisian children played.  Now I can say that they and the people who love them take them to the nearest park.  Toys, at least on the streets, seem minimal.  A ball and a scooter are probably enough.  Parisians children engage with the trees and plants and grass around them in interesting and intense ways.

On our way back, we looked into the shops.  You can get your eighteenth-century paintings restored there, or bring your violin to the luthier.  There are places where you can get very twisty turning green and orange lamp shades for your chrome lights, or find just the right sink for a new kitchen.  There are also shops with supplies for artists and crafters--quilting cotton, knitting wool, cross-stitch samplers in every size and style.

We ended our day at the Jardin des Plantes while it attempted to rain, though it did not quite succeed.  We found the Alpine Garden a particularly intriguing collection, including some very old trees, some extraordinary ferns, the usual explosions of irises.

Much of the Jardin Des Plants is fairly workmanlike:  rectangular beds filled with herbs or vegetables or medicinal plants, but perhaps generations of gardeners have lavished their attentions on the Alpine Garden, which the birds have also discovered.

The next day we spent seven hours at the Pompidou, being simply blown away by both contemporary arts (sans bull shit) and art at the turn of the century.  I'll tell you about that tomorrow.