Tuesday, May 7
Due to jetlag (and a few extra naps), we woke up very early on Tuesday and decided to take advantage of the morning light for photography. We wanted to see Notre Dame again and thought we’d just walk over for a little while. Like many of our outings on this trip, we got caught up in the scenery and “let’s just see what’s up here a little ways” (sound familiar, Dad?), so we ended up walking all morning. It was overcast but the cathedral still looked amazing. As a bonus, the streets were deserted.
We walked all over the Île de la Cité and Île St Louis and ended up at Le Village St Paul, an area of little courtyards and alleys with dozens of antique and vintage shops. That was a happy accident since I’d read about it before our trip but had completely forgotten that I wanted to do a little shopping there. Since it was early, the shops were closed but we had fun window-shopping (called faire du leche-vitrines in French, or “licking the windows”) and had something else to add to our already huge Must See list.
One the way home, we found BHV, Bazaar de L’Hotel de Ville, an enormous department store with everything from hardware in the basement to art supplies, fine stationery, luggage and books on the upper floors, not to mention two separate restaurants.
We brought a power converter and a power strip for our cameras, phones and various electronics but found out once we unpacked that the converter only accepted a two-pronged plug and virtually everything else was a three-pronged grounded plug. We figured if we could find it in Paris, it’d be at BHV. While we waited for the store to open at ten, we walked around the Hotel de Ville, the central administrative offices for Paris. (It isn’t quite the same as an American city hall. Paris is divided into eighteen districts, called arrondissements, each of which has a mayor.) Municipal offices have been on this site since 1357.
A huge amount of public records from the time of the French Revolution were lost when the the building burned to the ground in 1871. It was rebuilt over the course of 19 years and the current incarnation was completed in 1892.
Statues of famous (male) Parisians decorated the sides. I only found one woman who merited a place on the walls, Madame Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, a patron of philosophers and intellectuals of the French Enlightenment.
We spent an entertaining hour at BHV and bought a grounded adaptor (so we could at least charge my laptop), two fountain pens and postcards. Afterwards, we stopped at Stratto, a lunch counter staffed by more friendly Parisians. Like most locals we encountered, they spoke a fair amount of English but laughingly said they wouldn’t let us leave until we spoke at least a little French! They even taught us a new word, emporter, (food) to go.
On our way home, we saw one of the Art Deco style Métro stations with a pretty blooming tree as a backdrop.
I’d read that there were only a few of these stations left, most having been modernized. Happily, I was misinformed and we ended up seeing quite a few around the city.
After enjoying our tasty Stratto sandwiches and a nap, we headed to our first museum, Musée d’Orsay, dedicated to Impressionism.
As part of my pre-trip research, I’d looked at the catalogs of the museums we’d be visiting and made notes of all the paintings I wanted to see. While I love that museums make so much art and information available online, there’s really no substitute for seeing them in person. Jim was an art major and was a great source of information about techniques and schools. He pointed out the brush strokes and layers of paint and the way their textures add to the painting.
I took an Art History class in college and, of course, know the famous Impressionists like Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir but it was a treat to see the work of many other important artists in the genre and some unknown (to me) works by the big names.
La Pie (The Magpie), a landscape by Monet, was painted in Normandy but really reminded me of northern New Mexico.
My favorite Impressionist is Vincent Van Gogh and the Orsay owns several of his works, including one of the Starry Night paintings. I learned on this trip that there is more than one Starry Night painting. The most well-known is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Orsay owns Starry Night Over the Rhone. I was a tiny bit disappointed when I realized it wasn’t the Starry Night but Over the Rhone was quite beautiful, too.
That completely dissipated though, when I saw Thatched Cottages at Cordeville.
The room in which it was displayed was warm and crowded but I was able to work my way to the front after a few minutes. Standing there in the dimmed room with the light falling on the canvas, I got chills. The colors and the movement – so much energy in a static image. I could almost see the trees blowing in the wind, feel the sun on my skin, smell the grass and the dirt and the gardens. Incredible.
Cordeville is a small village near Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh moved in 1890 after leaving the aslyum at Saint-Remy. He was taken with the thatched roofs in the area and recognized that they were becoming rare even then. Thatched Cottages was completed just a few months before his death in July, 1890.
After a few hours at the Orsay (with many breaks to rest our feet), we headed back home for dinner. We then headed out to see that most famous Parisian landmark, La Tour Eiffel.
People were sitting all over the park in front of the tower, chatting, picnicking and drinking wine. Enterprising young men were walking around selling trinkets, miniature Eiffel Towers, glow-in-the-dark bracelets and, of course, wine.
At the top of the hour, the Tower sparkles for about five minutes. We arrived just in time! You can see a bit of my iPhone video here: Sparkling Eiffel Tower.
To ride to the top requires a ticket and the lines can be quite long, apparently. We decided to just to walk around under the tower and skip the trip to the top. The engineering of the base is impressive (and was undergoing maintenance of some kind).
Next time on SLWS, A Rainy Day At The Louvre: