Sunday, April 17, 2011

paris journal 3

MONDAY, APRIL 11
After a leisurely day of sunshine and French food, we took a short stroll southeast. Most of what we'd been seeing — the churches and museums and landmarks — has been to the north of us, so I thought I'd just check the map and see where we could explore.

Sure enough, Parc Montsouris called. It's huge; it's very green; it has a gust of naturalness that comes from the Olmstead tradition — a nice contrast to the measured symmetry of other parks in Paris.


Up on the hillside, we took a seat right near a fantastic tulip garden. Gusts of wind kept blowing, bringing Greta to hilarious extremes of pleasure.




We stayed till the park closed, enjoying the wind, the setting sun, the unusual and beautiful view of the city, including some more modern (and less beautiful) buildings that were nevertheless well-placed among trees and greenery. There's still lots more to explore in this park. I hope we get to go back.


TUESDAY, APRIL 12
We explored further north today, stumbling upon some beautiful places along the way. Though we've been intentional about visiting some of the big must-see Paris attractions, the funnest part has been suddenly find ourselves in front of some gorgeous landmark that we had no idea we were going to pass. This is the virtue of just kicking around in the city rather than going by some pre-arranged tour.

Today was a perfect example. We'd enjoyed our visit to the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, but figured that since we'd just dropped in the first time we should check the place out more thoroughly. Which we did: beautiful! Then we just kept going, this time on a more strictly northern route, figuring we'd walk to the Seine and back and meet whatever met us.

Suddenly, we were struck by a massive building. The massiveness of this place cannot be exaggerated. It was Saint-Sulpice, a church that figured into the plot of The Da Vinci Code. Standing in the plaza, enjoying the fountain, and looking on as the setting sun did its golden-glowing magic on the incredible West entrance, I couldn't help but shift Louis Kahn's words to fit the occasion: The sun never knew how great it was till it hit the side of Saint-Sulpice. Man.


Click on the picture to get a sense of what I mean by "massive": see Catherine and Greta down at the base?


We wound our way further north, stumbling on the altogether more straightforward Saint-Germain-des-Prés. My favorite view of it was of the spire peeking out from the ivied wall.


From the front, its austere beauty graces the entire area. Wheeling around, we discovered that the cafe that sits right across from it was none other than Les Deux Magots, that epicenter of the late-19th- and early-20th-century intellectual and artistic vanguard. Hemingway, Camus, Picasso, Sartre, Truffaut, Simone de Beauvoir, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco: this is where they held court.

And all on a walk to the river and back!


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13
I'd checked to see if we could hit the Paris Opera sometime while here, but unfortunately nothing was playing there. However, the Bastille Opera just so happened to be showing a world premiere, Bruno Mantovani's Akhmatova, based on the life of the Russian poetess. Had to do it!

While it doesn't fit into the category of Eurofolly (you know, the La-Boheme-set-in-outer-space stuff), it definitely fits comfortably into the American caricature of European-style opera: not very entertaining, very little visual interest, unrelieved severity in costumes, choreo, set designs, lighting, and blocking. As for the music itself, he kept doing this one texture that sounded like the moment of climax in a Bernard Herrman score for a Hitchcock film. Cool enough, but he did this roughly four times a minute for the duration. Ach!

At intermission, we decided to invert a grand Parisian opera tradition. We left after the first act and had a beautiful dinner at a nearby cafe. A great decision. I've never, ever left an opera partway through, especially a world premiere, but man oh man. I even started getting a headache walking around afterward with the unpleasant non-drama rolling through my head. Then I noticed a fever, and some very disturbing lightheadedness. By the time we got home, I officially declared myself Sick.

I blame the opera. Bruno Mantovani, you owe me 70 Euro, plus pills.

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