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Monthly Archives: October 2013

I went to the Louvre yesterday evening. Each time I’m in Paris, I take the opportunity of being here to go look at the French paintings there. If you didn’t happen to already know, I’m one of those people who falls down on her knees before Ingres. Last visit, I spent a large amount of time looking at eighteenth century paintings. This time, I decided to start at an earlier point.

According to the plaques on the wall, the French have not preserved as many of their early paintings as some other countries, so the French paintings really start in earnest around 1400. Among the first presented, if you follow the rooms of French paintings in chronological order, are several featuring the Pieta.When I was young, I really loved Medieval and early Renaissance paintings and I’ve always found them highly moving. When I was in Florence with my sister, tramping from Church to Church to Church like a pair of pilgrims, I joked that if I saw one more beautiful Madonna I was going to convert, and, indeed, that is exactly the effect they are intended to have. The reason those great works were commissioned by the Church in the first place, beyond simply the desire to impress the faithful with the power of the Church, was to inspire religious feelings.

In La Grand Pieta and, next to it, Le Christ de pitie soit tennu par Jean l’Evangelist en presence de la Vierge et de deux anges, both attributed to Jean Malouel, Christ’s flesh is pierced, his blood flowing. The pained sorrow of the onlookers. Who could fail to be moved? Are we moved by the suffering of a god, or only to the extent that we can relate to it as the suffering of a person. To what extent are we moved by the story, if we know it, the story as we can discern it if we do not know it, or by the plastic elements? If we are moved by the formal components, the how is that different from being moved by a work of abstract expressionism? In fact, isn’t that part of what abstract expressionism sets out to do?

However, unlike the abstract paintings, the medieval paintings do contain content and narrative. How did the people who believed these stories feel when looking at the paintings? Can I truly be said to appreciate them, no matter how moved I may feel, if I do not believe them?

Then I got a sinking sense of “What is it all worth.” Somehow, the paintings started making me feel very small and insignificant.

Obviously, I sketched this in another room. It is, I'm afraid, a poor copy of David's self-portrait.

Obviously, I sketched this in another room. It is, I’m afraid, a poor copy of David’s self-portrait.

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Since I’ve been here several times before and have seen most of the major monuments and museums, I’ve been spending this trip doing whatever interests me. That has included a couple of visits to museums, but they hadn’t been a big part of this trip. Then on Sunday, I decided that maybe I would buy one of those Museum Passes and go on a four-day museum binge. I’ve never bought one of the passes before because it’s only worth it if you see more than one museum a day. Now, that I had splurged on the pass, I meant to get up early so I could go to one museum, take a lunch break, and then go to another museum. So, of course I overslept today. Oops. That’s one museum off the list.

I decide that I would go over to the Cité of Science and Industry, over in the Park de la Villette.

My second day here, I walked along the Canal Saint Martin up to the Rotonde de la Villette, a fascinating eighteenth century building that I keep meaning to feature in a post. Today, I walked in that direction, but instead of walking along the Canal Saint Martin, I walked along the rue de Faubourg Saint Denis to the Gare de l’Est.

Crossing over a bridge, I saw what I presumed to be train platforms.

Crossing over a bridge, I saw what I presumed to be train platforms.

This is a photo of the decorative pattern on the railing on the bridge and the shadow it cast on a support.

This is a photo of the decorative pattern on the railing on the bridge and the shadow it cast on a support.

From the point where I ended my walk a couple of weeks ago, at the Rotonde, I walked alongside the Bassin de la Villette.

Here, a rainbow can be seen over the canal.

Here, a rainbow can be seen over the canal.

I paused to snap a few pictures of several boats that were tied up along the canal. This one had a sign saying that it was a cafe and perfomance space. I stopped in for a beer.

I paused to snap a few pictures of several boats that were tied up along the canal. This one had a sign saying that it was a cafe and perfomance space. I stopped in for a beer.

This is the inside of the boat. You go downstairs to get your drinks and then bring them up here.

This is the inside of the boat. You go downstairs to get your drinks and then bring them up here.

I did a quick sketch of a couple of men seated across from me. Two little girls came up and asked if they could see. Then they wanted to know if "les messieurs" knew about being sketch. I told the girls that I did not know.

I did a quick sketch of a couple of men seated across from me. Two little girls came up and asked if they could see. Then they wanted to know if “les messieurs” knew about being sketched. I told the girls that I did not know.

Here's a pretty shot of the canal.

Here’s a pretty shot of the canal.

As I approached the museum, I saw a second, even more impressive, double rainbow. You can see spots of raindrops on my lense.

As I approached the museum, I saw a second, even more impressive, double rainbow. You can see spots of raindrops on my lens.

The museum was a huge amount of fun. Because of its location, I don’t think it’s a top site for a lot foreign tourists, but it was jam-packed with French kids. Most of the exhibits are very hands on, so it’s especially good for children. frequently, when museums try to do innovative and interactive exhibits, I feel that they aren’t any more engaging than the usual static ones, however, I thing they’ve done an excellent job here. If you like science and technology, I recommend it even if you’re not a kid. If you bring children to Paris, this stop should be high on your list.

Well, I just thought that when sketch day rolled around on Tuesday, I’d head on over to the Louvre. It wasn’t on my bucket list because I don’t have a bucket list, but it was one of those things you think to yourself that you’re going to do one day, so Tuesday was going to be the day except – the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Therefore, Monday is Sketch Day this week.

My apologies for the poor quality of the photographs. I don’t have a proper set up here for photographing my drawings.

I started in the Cour Marly, which is a court which has been enclosed with a skylight and houses sculptures mainly from the period of Louis XIV. As usual, my subjects were chosen by the location of convenient seating. This is a sculpture of a river goddess.

statue

Here is another sculpture from the courtyard. It is of a pair of wrestlers. I couldn’t find a convenient place to sit, so I drew it standing up, which was a bit of a challenge. The hand of one of the figures is missing. I didn’t just get lazy.

wrestlers

From the Cour Marly, I went into the rooms housing French sculpture from the middle ages. There was a lot of interesting stuff and I regretted not having a stool since there were few places to sit. I began sketching this stone head of an apostle that was located by a window. I had only just begun blocking it in, but I liked the geometric feel, so I left it.

head of an apostle

Eventually, I came across this fabulous sculpture representing death. Death is not simply a skeleton, but he still has some flesh clinging to him. His abdomen is ripped open and you can see his spine. It’s so much scarier than a simple skeleton. Unsurprisingly, this was originally located in a cemetery in Paris.

death

Still in the French sculpture rooms, I was moving forward in time and entered some rooms with renaissance sculptures. This is a statue of what I presume is Diana with a stag.

diana

Eventually, I moved into the Louvre’s other sculpture courtyard, the Cour Puget. The museum started closing while I was drawing and I never did get the name of this statue of a woman holding an infant reaching for a crown. Considering the period, I would take a stab and guess that it shows Louis XIV during his minority, but it could be XV or Jesus, or any king-baby.

king

I made a couple of references recently to a friend who no longer returns my emails. I didn’t write any details about him because, I’ve always had the feeling that he was a private person and wouldn’t appreciate any obvious references, even though I’d never use his name, or anyone else’s, without permission.

Since he was the last close friend I had on whom I could rely, this leaves me without any substantial emotional support besides my sister. This evening, I was half-tempted to reach out to a few people I don’t know well in an attempt to… well, honestly, I don’t know. An attempt at reaching out for the sake of reaching out, I suppose. So, I guess this blog is a weird mess of different stuff anyway, so some awkward emotional self-exposure couldn’t harm it any.

We met through a dating site. My experiences on dating sites have been far worse than my experiences dating the old-fashioned way. That wasn’t what I expected. At first, I thought internet dating would be perfect for me and I was the first among my friends to try it when there was still a stigma attached. Oddly enough, that period was actually okay, if not as great as I’d hoped. You see, there are a few ways in which I am not in the big fat middle of the bell curve and I thought that the internet, by allowing a person to contact  more people than only those in one’s own narrow socio-economic, and regional, group, would allow me to meet people who may share some of my less common characteristics. Okay, as long as I’m confessing to embarrassing things, I might as well admit that I once joined Mensa because I was lonely. Okay. Whew. That’s a lot off my chest. Please don’t hate me because I used to belong to Mensa.

Yeah, so I thought that the internet might be a way to meet some really smart guys who might just also be available, and I might even be able to weed out the ones who just want to hold hands and cuddle without having to date them for six months first.

Well, since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why internet dating works so poorly, and if anybody with the requisite skills would like to collaborate on trying to create a totally different type of dating site based on some crazy notions I have, there’s a contact form on my about page, although I should tell you that everyone to whom I’ve described my idea says that we’d get no users. Anyway, back to me…

One of the problems with dating sites is that you have to put down a whole list of requirements, height, weight, age, hair color, eye color and… location. So, I put down “anywhere,” which perhaps isn’t quite true, but it has enough of an element of truth. There are probably places I wouldn’t go for anyone, but for the right person I could go pretty far, especially now that I’ve gained experience and have realized how few and far between those right people are. One of the people who kept popping up on the little list of “people you might want to meet” was a programmer/journalist from Germany a couple of years older than I was whose profile made me laugh a little. Prior to internet dating, many of the men I dated were younger. After the rise of the internet, when your age would be pasted right next to your face, I found that approaching a man who was born six seconds after I was would get me a response of, “You seem wonderful and I bet you’ll meet a wonderful man soon, however, I want to meet a younger woman.” Actually, I’ve gotten that from men as much as ten years my senior, all the while being approached by guys fifteen years younger in person. Now, why couldn’t any of those young ones have had something in common with me? Meanwhile, this guy had something about age I could relate to. He wrote something to the effect of, “Your IQ must be at least 120 plus our age difference.” That might sound weird, but that’s a little bit how I feel about it, although I might say 135 plus our age difference. I’m not against dating older or younger men, but the further they get from my age, the more we need to have in common. If a sixty year old man, or forty, sends me an email saying, “You’re cute. Let’s meet,” I think to myself, “Let’s not.” However, if someone the same age sends an email saying, “We have X, Y and Z in common,” then I think it’s great. Also, since there was no upper limit on IQ, I figured it implied smarter was better. Men who feel that way frequently like me, so I was encouraged. So, I wrote. Actually, I wrote, “Boy, you’re easy.”

He wrote back.

Partly, I kept writing because the men in New York City who were contacting me seemed to be demanding to a crazy extent. I wasn’t tall enough, rich enough, young enough, educated enough- why date a kinda cute girl  (well, middle-aged woman) next door when there are so many twenty-year old neurosurgeons who moonlight as exotic dancers just waiting to cater to all the emotional and sexual needs of a horde of IT professionals who realized at forty that playing hard to get isn’t a good idea when no one’s chasing you… but I digress.

So, M. seemed, by comparison, relatively normal. He was vulnerable, imperfect and grumpy by his own admission. He only had one photo posted, and that was a head on shot that showed nothing but his face. In fact, it looked like an id photo might look, although it wasn’t. He clearly wasn’t hideous, but it wasn’t enough information for my interest to be based primarily on his appearance.

So, did I actually think something romantic could develop with a man living on another continent? Yeah, I confess, I did. You see, I’m not that into monogamy, although I confess I haven’t given it much thought in a few years. However, the idea of having a man who was a friend and lover, yet seeing him once or twice a year, was not in the least bit inconceivable to me. I can conceive of many things. I don’t have a preconceived notion of what a relationship should be.

Our early emails, and by early I mean the first six months, were beyond flirtatious. We had very frank discussions about what we would be willing to do with a partner in bed. There were even a couple of things he told me he had always wanted to try but none of his previous girlfriends were willing. I told him that, if we ever met, we I would try them with him. For the record, one was something I’ve done and another was something I haven’t done.

As I already said, I could see that he wasn’t perfect, and he had been single for an unusually long time. Meanwhile, I continued to write to other men and go out on the occasional date.

Finally, I asked if he would like to visit me in New York. I did phrase it as a chance to visit New York and stay with a friend, mainly because “fly to the other side of the ocean and see if we find each other physically attractive” seemed a bit high pressured. I figured, once he arrived we could play it by ear. I’m at least as good as the average person at telling if someone is interested in me and I could trust myself to not throw myself at him in a way that would make us both dreadfully uncomfortable. In fact, with me, and I suspect with M. as well, if there’s a danger it could be that we might each be too reticent.

He wrote and told me that he did not like to fly and an eight or nine-hour flight to New York sounded like pure torture. However, there was no reciprocal invitation and he didn’t sound exactly filled with regret. Suddenly, it hit me, the painful way it only does when you realize it though disappointment, that I had developed quite a degree of affection for him. I called it a crush, because I didn’t know what other word to use. “In love” is too specific. Without meeting in person, I don’t know if I could truly fall in love. In any case, I suddenly realized that the possibility of anything more romantic than our flirtatious emails was highly unlikely. I threw myself on the bed and sobbed and wondered if it was too painful to be friends. I think I might have cried a couple of days in a row and then I decided that I could work through this disappointment and we could, in fact, be friends. Over the course of the next year, the flirtatiousness faded to the background, although every once in a while it would return.

That was four or five years ago. We have continued to write frequently, although the regularity has varied. There have been times that he’s fallen silent for a long time, but when I’ve written to ask if he was okay, he’ll write a short note saying that he’s fine but work is busy, etc. He suffers from depression and I do worry a little, although he hasn’t had a major episode in years.

So what events could have led up to this recent rupture? Since he hasn’t written, if something has occurred on his end, I can’t know. I was long, very long, in returning an email to him. When I finally did, I did not hear from him quickly, but that in itself was no surprise. Then I wrote an email asking if he was okay. No response. Then I wrote another that was a little bit more blase and chatty. No response. Then I wrote a pleading one. Then an angry one. Then, this evening, I wrote a whiny, tearful, pathetic one. If he had asked me to stop, I’d be bordering on being a stalker.

It’s been too long now for him to be on vacation.

Is he alive? Is he ill? Those sound too melodramatic and feel too much like denial.

So, basically, I feel as if I lost my best friend.

Due to the fact that I don’t like to carry my phone with me, I’ve been incommunicado for over twenty-four hours, so I just want to get a quick post up so my sister doesn’t worry. Yesterday was a very stimulating day, and my mind was racing with all the things that I was going to write when I got home. However, I never did get home.

I went down to the Seine around sunset thinking that I’d perhaps get a nice picture for this week’s photo challenge. It was drizzling as I left, but the sun started clearing. When I saw the sky as I walked past the Jardin des Tuileries, I hurried towards the nearest bridge pausing only long enough to take this photo:

sunset

Crossing the Pont Royal, I saw some silhouettes on a roof. It looked as if a photography shoot was taking advantage of the sky.

silhouettes_on_roof

The sky was reflected in the puddles on the sidewalk.

sidewalk

 

 

Used to be that I could stand through hearing five or six bands on both Friday and Saturday night. Also used to be that I was twenty-three years old. Here I am, laid up, nursing sore ankles after standing through one set – and we’re not talking a Bruce Springsteen three and a half or four hour set either.

I gave Stone a “wish you were here” phone call last night. International minutes are expensive and I hung up still feeling antsy and agitated, and wanting to talk to someone, anyone. It was mixed-up, ambivalent, happy-yet-angry sort of agitation. I thought about heading out to a bar just so as not to be alone, but my ankles were telling me that that would be an unwise decision. So I sent my apparently no-longer-friend, who still hasn’t written, an email that said “fuck you” several times in between less sweet sentiments that I hope were not entirely incoherent. Maybe staying in was an unwise decision.

I’d never been to the Parc de la Villette. In grad school I had an acquaintance who was a big Bernard Tschumi fan, and it’s been on my list of places to see for years. Somehow, I never quite got out that way. I still can’t really say that I’ve seen it, since I’ve still only seen a very small part of it. If Paris was a big clock face, located out near half past one, there’d be the Cité de la Musique. Like the other things I saw in the park it had the feel of a big government project, sterile, hulking, inhuman in scale, and simply boring. The entrance is wedged into one of Tschumi’s follies like one oppressively bureaucratic idea trying to accommodate another. The only thing I could say it made me feel was an intense desire to shoot the leviathan and put it out of its misery.

After walking past a sleekly boring cafe, I saw some figures on the wall of the building that reminded me of the shadow figures I used to see painted on walls in New York in the eighties. A boyfriend who’d grown up in a project on the Lower East Side first pointed them out to me. We used to tell each other when we’d spotted one so the other could go look at it. Getting closer to these figures, they looked to me as if they’d been printed out on paper and pasted to the wall. Four of them. The fact that it looked like graffiti or street art seemed appropriate. I want to say they were images of the members of The Clash, but I’ve got a confession to make, I wouldn’t recognize most celebrities if I fell over them. I don’t know, and I don’t really care, about the personal lives of my favorite writers or musicians. Half the time I don’t even know if they’re alive or dead. I care about the work, not the person. Is that unkind of me?

“Europunk,” the name of the exhibit, let’s face it, is a misnomer. Ninety percent of the shit’s English. No denying that. Appropriately, the first thing to greet you at the entrance of the exhibition itself is an image of the Union Jack with a picture of the Queen on top. Yeah, you know the image. It’s the one with her eyes and mouth covered with letters that spell out “God Save the Queen” and “The Sex Pistols.” I can’t deny that I smiled despite the frame and the glass and the little museum description near the corner.

Punk was before my time, and mostly it took place across the ocean anyway, so I can’t say that this dredged up any feelings of nostalgia. The main feeling was one of gratitude. I think I was lucky to come of age in the era immediately following its heyday. Everyone else seemed to be staring in the glass cases ever so seriously. Was I wrong to think a lot of this outrageous stuff was funny? Maybe I had been too young to know better, but this stuff had never shocked me. The cases in the center of the room displayed clothing by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, like some sort of ancient pottery. This was, after all, a museum. Strangely, the words of a song I happen to really hate entered my mind, “I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said, ‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.'” Well, I still don’t like that song, but I’ve got to say that I think I now know what the writer was feeling when he wrote those words. I started feeling happy, amused and a little bit ill, all at the same time.

A drawing of a tower of televisions with people standing around them wearing headphones.

There was a t.v. playing a recording of the New York Dolls playing “Jet Boy.” I remember as a teenager always feeling cheated because I couldn’t listen to music because most of it took place in bars and I was too young to go to bars. Oh, I was so angry about that. So, when one of my sister’s friends asked if we wanted to go hear a band that was playing at a nearby college, I jumped at the chance. I had heard of these Ramones, but hadn’t actually heard them, so I had no idea if I liked them or not, but school venue = no booze = no age limit so I was going. I wish I could place my age at the time. I can’t, but my sister eventually had a falling out with that friend, so I must have been pretty young. The Ramones, as it happens, totally sucked. Despite being a sheltered little girl who had never so much as tasted beer and was clueless as to what marijuana smelled like, I had a pretty good idea that these guys were so stoned they seemed to have trouble standing up. It was as if each one was playing in his own little bubble and they only happened to be on the same stage. Yet the evening was not a total waste. If the headlining band was a disappointment, I was entirely taken by the opening act. Still, to this day, it might be the best performance I’ve ever seen. I kept his name in the back of my mind for years trying to find out who he was. David Johansen. If the internet had existed back then, I would have known about the Dolls before going to bed that night. In retrospect, this was probably my musical awakening, and for years I wouldn’t know who this guy was.

My dislike for the Ramones has always been a little awkward. They’re from New York and have been among the favorites of many of my friends.

I went to grad school a little bit late and I was almost a decade older than the bright young things who surrounded me. Now, nearly two decades on, it’s hard to see the difference between my age and theirs, but they saw that difference and never tired of rubbing my face in it, that and our class differences. They liked to call me a “punk” and said the word with a kind of disdain, like they were picking a piece of litter up off the street. They pointed to a pile of cassettes I kept beside my desk.

“You listen to The Clash.”

“Everyone listens to The Clash. Fuck, man, they had hit records.”

“Fuck, maaaan.” Someone repeated, giggling at my passé lingo.

“So who are these people?” someone else said, picking up a cassette of the New York Dolls.

I tried explaining why I said that I’d never been a punk. Finally, it occurred to me that it was a lot like when my bio-mom explained to me that she was a freak not a hippie. It was a nicety that I didn’t really care about. I nodded at the time, but I still describe her to people my age as a hippie. However, if you’re a certain age, she considered herself a freak. Me, I’m a wuss. I like hot and cold running water far too much to live in a squat. I was never a part of all that. I just happened to like some of the music.

On one wall was a poster, and I smiled again at something familiar. “This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.” It reminded me of one of the reasons I feel gratitude towards punk. People sometimes describe it as a DIY ethos, but it seems slightly deeper than that to me. Somehow, I felt that if you didn’t like the culture you could make your own. You don’t like your culture? Then what the fuck are you going to do about it? But it also drove home why I was feeling angst. It’s not “here are three chords, now play in your room.” It’s “now form a band.” Culture isn’t something that happens in isolation. It happens among people, and these days I’ve been feeling very alone.

At the end of the exhibition they had computers with a library of songs on them. I sat down and started listening to bands I’d never heard. It was almost closing time for the museum. It was disappointing because this was one of the most informative parts of the exhibition for me. If I had known, I would have started there.

As I left the museum, I saw people taking photos of one another standing next to the life-size images of famous bands that I had seen on the way in. Suddenly, I didn’t like them anymore.

As I was having a quick dinner at a brasserie across the street, I couldn’t help mulling over the differences between then and now. Of course, there had been plenty of photos from the era in the exhibit. I toyed with the idea of doing a cartoon showing two women, one showing how women actually looked in 1978 and another showing a woman in a “punk” Halloween costume in 2013. The contemporary interpretation would have a young woman in high, high heels with a touch of fetish styling, fishnet stockings, a super short plaid miniskirt and a black leather jacket, all looking far too cute and sex-kittenish to ever have been worn 1978. As I headed back to the concert hall, a young woman less than half my age walked by me wearing almost that exact outfit. The only difference was opaque black stockings instead of fishnets. I had to stifle the impulse to laugh. She wasn’t the only young person who appeared to be in costume.

I began thinking, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, not that I thought it was a bad idea, but I found myself bracing for disappointment. Perhaps it was the context, but I didn’t like the sense that people were coming to see John Lydon as part of a museum exhibit, which in fact it was. Fortunately, I am not a reviewer, I wanted to have a good time and I did. However, I left with a huge number of mixed up emotions.

On the way home, I walked the streets feeling like a ghost.

The revolution will not be televised. It will be put behind glass and tucked safely away in a museum.

There’s a possibility that I’ll get in late this evening – probably not, but a gal can always hope. Just in case, I figured I’d put up a quick little post before I go out, just an anecdote.

The first time I came to Paris I stayed here for a month in the summer of ’94. At the end of that month, my husband joined me here. I said to my husband that I couldn’t see where Parisians got their reputation. I was finding that everyone was just sweet and lovely, and downright friendly on occasion.

“Hé?” He looked at me shocked for a moment and then said, “Ouais, b’en sûr. You come from the one city where people are ruder. No wonder you think this is friendly.”

New Yorkers, rude? Who knew. Well, I still think my ex is wrong and Parisians are surprisingly friendly.