Friday, May 10
The eight panels are part of a series of 250 paintings of Monet’s water garden at Giverny. He gifted the paintings to France after World War I to offer “a refuge for peaceful meditation in the midst of a flowering aquarium.” ¹
We arrived just before the museum opened and were some of the first visitors to enter. Maybe it was the early hour or maybe Monet achieved his goal of a refuge but most people sat quietly and examined the paintings. The subdued atmosphere and attentive visitors were a nice change from the hectic and crowded Louvre.
The paintings are displayed in two purpose-built elliptical rooms and represent the hours of the day. The entrance is through a small vestibule designed by Monet to separate the turmoil of city life from the serenity of his paintings. Interestingly, the vestibule opens onto Sunset but that is because the paintings are oriented from east to west in the museum to support the theme of day passing from morning to evening.
The curving walls combined with the diffused lighting immerse the viewer in the paintings. The images are calm but depict gentle movement of willows in the breeze and ripples on the water.
We strolled through the rest of the museum and I found a few new favorites in the Walter-Guillaume Collection. André Derain painted La Table de Cuisine (The Kitchen Table). I loved the rich browns and texture of the loaf of bread (reproduced using that layered paint Jim had shown me). The homey images and the warm palette made it feel like there was a fire in the hearth just outside the frame, maybe with a pot of stew simmering over it. I wanted to smell the just-baked bread.
Arlequin et Pierrot, also by Derain, looked familiar to me but I can’t say from where. There are interesting conflicting elements in the painting. The characters are clothed in brightly colored, festive costumes but wear morose expressions. They are dancing and playing but their instruments are (mostly) unstrung. The background is still but the muscians are off-balance and seem to be about to careen downhill.
After we left the museum, we walked northwest to the Grand Palais, a complex of museums, parkland and exhibition halls built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. The tulips were blooming in the gardens.
There were massive statues on the roof of the Grand Palais.
The grand entrance to the Petit Palais is across the street,
With statues of its own.
From there we walked up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe where both auto and foot traffic was heavy:
This is a very upscale shopping area with stores like Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Chanel. Photos were about the only thing I could afford along this avenue!
The Arch is huge – 164 feet tall, 148 feet wide and 72 feet deep. You can just make out the people walking around on top:
I love the tiny people carved on the Arch with the tiny people above them.
There were some interesting friezes on the sides. I wish I knew my French history better.
Traffic in the circle around the monument was crazy. It’s one big roundabout with no traffic signals or no lane markings that I could see. The traffic pattern seemed to make sense to the locals – we didn’t hear any horns to speak of and didn’t see a single accident or really even any close calls.
You can watch a short video here. There’s a scooter at :40 that I was sure was going to get creamed but just cruised right through. And it gets really messy at :55
We stopped for lunch and then found a Post Office to mail some postcards. After that, we took the Metro to Montmartre to visit Sacré-Cœur.
Butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris, was originally the site of a Roman temple to Mars and called Mont of Mars. It later became Christianized to Mountain of Martyrs after St. Denis was beheaded in 250 AD. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the area surrounding the butte was known for it’s bohemian artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and musicians and singers like Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt and Josephine Baker.
Twenty-first century Montmartre is pretty seedy. Perhaps no more so than in it’s bohemian heyday but today it seems to lack the artistic and musical creativity of that era.
We’d heard about plenty of scams that tourists occasionally fall for in this area – someone “finds” a ring and first tries to return the “lost property” to a tourist who somehow ends up buying it from the scammer (I’m not quite sure how that works), three-card monte, people who would tie a thread bracelet on someone’s wrist then demand payment, etc. We saw a few of these – three-card monte and the bracelet sellers – but they seemed to be manageable if we just kept walking and ignored them. I suspect younger travelers who want to experience the “real” Paris might be more susceptible to the scams.
Sacré-Coeur, a Roman Catholic church, is officially called the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris and was consecrated in 1919.
It was a hike up the hill but we had a nice view of Paris.
We walked around the back side and found some cool gargoyles:
Further along, we found Parc de la Turlure with some pretty wisteria.
We sat and listened to the bells of Sacré-Coeur. You can listen here.
We wanted to go to the Louvre again for the evening hours which are allegedly less crowded so after we rested our feet, we walked back down the hill and all the way back to the Louvre, about two miles. (We have vowed to learn the Metro system next time.)
There’s so much history just strewn about Paris. That’s one benefit of walking (so much walking!). We found a plaque from WWII with flowers from VE day.
On the way we passed Galleries Lafayette, another department store with a fancy food hall I’d wanted to check out. We were just too tired, though, and wanted to make sure we had time for the Louvre so I put it on the list for the next trip.
We spent a couple hours at the Louvre but it was still quite crowded. I was able to spend some time in the Italian section and saw the Coronation of Napoleon.
I did get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa but didn’t mind giving it a miss since there were still masses of people in front of it. And from what I could tell, the museum has just given up on preventing people photographing it and put it behind tinted glass. It’s too bad but at least they are protecting it.
We walked back to the apartment after another long day to rest up for our last day in Paris.
¹ (Lebrun, C. (2013). Plan and Guide Musée de L’Orangerie [Brochure] Paris, France: Musée d’Orsay).