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.  

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