Monday, November 5, 2007

Culture vulture

This was a two-museum day. Time here is short (I leave Wednesday for my conference in Belgium) so one must make haste, slowly, to get a little kultchah.

After lunch I found myself heading to the Cluny museum, which was just minutes away and where I'd been thinking of going since yesterday. Or longer. I don't think I had been during any of my adult visits. It's Paris's medieval museum and also is adjacent to the ruins of the Roman baths --you visit the one on the same ticket as the other-- and since I now teach history of Christianity with a serious segment on 12th century Europe, this was a must.

The most amusing part of a visit full of items related to religious devotion plus a few devoted to war was a set of tiny pendants or pins --jewelry of some kind-- which alas I cannot describe because it would draw all manner of undesirables to the blog, but let me say that our medieval forebears may have fasted during Lent and sculpted the Last Judgment on the portals of their cathedrals and feared for the lives of their immortal souls, but they were a randy bunch, and you have no idea of some of the explicit depictions they made. They didn't teach us about that in school.

Yes, I also saw amazing tapestries and statues and tiles and fabric from medieval Spain that showed a lot of Moorish influence and ivory and and stained glass and wood and metal portable altars and reredoses (reredoi? reredoodles?), oh my.

The museum happens to be located in a not too shabby 15th century building which was the Cluniac monks' little Parisian pied-à-terre.

It was after that bit of overstimulation that I headed for the quiet of the Ile Saint-Louis and the Berthillon sorbets. (See below.)

After which it was time for a little something more modern, which I would have saved for tomorrow except that most museums in Paris are closed on Tuesdays. Off I went, still on foot --it was a long walking day-- to the Pompidou Center, a.k.a. Beaubourg (see discussion on nomenclature below), which has an exhibit on the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

Beaubourg is a monstrosity. I mean, it really does look like a heating plant. But it's a fabulous museum, even if the signage inside is lousy and I got lost twice on the way to the exhibit. And what no one had told me and I had never read anywhere is that the view from the 6th floor (where the exhibit was), at least from the balcony and walkways, is one of the most spectacular in all of Paris on a clear night. And this was a clear night. (The museum has evening hours.) You can see every major building illuminated, clear across the night sky, including both the ugly ones (or the ones Parisians think are mostly ugly tourist traps, like the Sacré-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower) and the beautiful old ones like the Invalides (where Napoleon's tomb is) and the nearby Tour Saint-Jacques and Notre-Dame and the ugliest building in the city, the Tour Montparnasse, which was an accident of urban planning and sticks out like a square sore thumb on the urban landscape. Directly across from Beaubourg are traditional old --or restored-- five- or six-story buildings with the mansard windows so characteristic of the city. Some architect knew what s/he was doing with that sixth-floor glass-enclosed walkway.

It's still ugly from outside, though. But it works.

As for Giacometti, I have always liked him, and I continue to be amazed at how much emotion and detail his thin, compressed sculptures convey. I also love his face. There was a whole room in the exhibit devoted to photographs of him. All the major photographers of the 20th century seem to have taken portraits of him: Man Ray, Brassaï, Gordon Parks, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Inge Morath. He had a beautiful, mobile, sculptured face.

He also made sketches and a tiny bust of Simone de Beauvoir. Who knew? Sketches of Sartre also, but no bust, at least none in the exhibit.

I like his cat:


Paul said...

Jane, it must be reredoodles. Rather like pornography, you know: I can't define it but I know the plural when I see it. Reredoodles is just so right.

You travelogue in Paris is filling me with envy. Soupir!

Jane R said...

I'm glad you approve of the plural. It just came to me.

Hey, where is everybody? Tell them I'm away but I'm writing like a maniac. I'm going to do a foodie update tonight if I have time. I am off to my French aunt's for lunch (she's not my blood relative but I have always called her "Tante -----" and her children called my parents "Tante ----" and "Oncle ----") and then to hang out with a friend, and then on to a dinner with old high school friends, one of whom I haven't seen in 30 years. (I stay in touch with the others. That other one is a recent "reconnect.")

Thanks for checking in! Glad to be entertaining and sorry to cause you envy. (No I'm not ;-))

Jane R said...

P.S. Don't you just love that Giacometti cat?

Eager to get to the opening of the exhibit on the Phoenicians today (yup, open on Tuesday) but not sure if I'll make it since my social calendar is so full.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Jane, aren't the Unicorn Tapestries gorgeous. I have small, framed reproductions of them in one of my spare bedrooms.

I remember the day I was looking for the Cluny Museum. I asked un agent de police for directions, and he sent me across the river. I trooped across the river only to find that I had been on the right side in the first place. I asked a couple of Parisians about this and was told that the agents de police don't like to say, "Je ne sais pas," so they'll tell you anything.

I finally found the museum, which takes up a square block, but I could not find the entrance. I asked for help from a French woman who was passing by, and she very kindly walked me around the block and a half to the entrance.

One act of over-the-top French kindness and one act of French arrogant dumbness.

I've never been to the Pompidou.

Jane R said...

I'm so glad someone was nice to you! It can be a little crazy here that way.

The Pompidou is worth it, but it is tiring -- once you are in there and in the right exhibit it's fine, but the signage is not great. That night view from the 6th floor is amazing, though. And the Giacomettis were great.

Magdalene6127 said...

I adore the Pompidou... have been to it twice, once in 86 and once in 02. I do remember the view. I also remember some fabulous out of the way restaurants nearby.

Reading all this is such fun! Enjoy, enjoy!



johnieb said...

Jane R.,

I've been in Arizona, pretty much offline for six days, but your entry here is absolutely delicious, though I have no French, alas, and cannot follow the Cluny link as completely as I surely would like, (though it sounds good--a little too Renissancey--ouch!--for my taste re: Twelveth Century Social History in where? What's Paris's legal status in the 12th CE? What's "France?" asked the once Medievally minded JB, who is also being tempted by Marc Bloch's *Strange Defeat* and Ernest May's response on the 1940 thing.

I also vote "aye" on Reredoodles and that wonderful cat; Annie is jealous, so I won't tell her about it.

Caminante said...

I know I wrote somewhere about Beaubourg (beyond my blog). I used to study in there on Sundays (1977-78 when it was new) because it was the one place in Paris with open stacks. Since it was new, the place was always a zoo and often you had to wait outside to get in (crowd control). Still, it was a good place to work.