Thursday, 10 June 2010

My ongoing drawing project

My ongoing drawing project that involves me traveling to every station on the old North London line and drawing at least one picture when I get there now has its own blog and you can find it here. I began it in 2005 and hope I finish it this decade!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Our Parisian finale

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We were serenaded below the window of the apartment on our last night

So by Saturday, our last full day on this short trip, our batteries were really running down. After breakfast we pottered off to Musée de Cluny and revisited the famous medieval tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn but even their sumptuous detail and workmanship couldn't hold our attention for long - more coffee was calling.

We wound up at a nearby cafe, sitting outside in the gloom, near a young American couple. They were with a female friend who was hogging their conversation: yak, yak, yak. The guy in the couple seemed to be withdrawing into his coat, his girlfriend was nodding politely - we paid and left.

We realised that there was no hope of finding a post office nearby to send our two cards to our respective mothers so pressed on towards the Metro. Our plan was to trek over to the Hôtel national des Invalides to see the tomb of Napoleon. Something else I've never done. This was where I got really quite excited because, after traipsing around endless tunnels and up and down stairs, we arrived at the B-line platform and got on a suburban train for two stops. These trains have two decks (like double decker buses) and it felt like we were going off on a long trip into the unknown.

Our suburban train ride was soon over. When we were back up on street level we walked down a very long, wide avenue where at the end there is a building that dwarfs everything around it. This, as Graham told me, is the Hôtel national des Invalides. Thinking this was too much to tackle on an empty stomach we headed off towards a district where we hoped to find a restaurant. We found several and enjoyed an excellent meal for a cold day.

Now we were fortified and ready for Napoleon and his tomb. It struck me that to get to any destination in Paris you have to walk miles. Before we could get to old Boney we walked through a gate, along a path, through another gate into a huge courtyard with cloister-like walkways. In the courtyard there were groups of military type young people pacing around as if in rehearsal for some future event - we gawped at them for a bit. Once through the courtyard we carried on walking and walking until we got to the imposing front door of the chapel for Napoleon's tomb.

What a weird place this is. Unlike most Christian churches which run from West to East, this runs from North to South. Napoleon was a short man but you wouldn't know it looking at his tomb which, I understand, has maybe five coffins stacked inside each other, and then placed inside this weird marble edifice. The tomb is in the crypt but can be seen from above. Surrounding the tomb are protective pagan goddesses and plaster reliefs depicting Napoleon in heroic poses. It was well odd but worth one visit.

And that really was enough. Time to return to our friends' apartment for the last time and enjoy the serenade from the band that was roaming around the neighbourhood.

Friday, 4 June 2010

We love the Tuileries

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A peaceful pause in the Tuileries

On our second full day of our trip Graham suggested that we visit the Musée de L'institute du Monde Arab. According to the description on our museum pass the institution was planned to raise and spread awareness of Arab culture and it has 500 works which shed light on the history of the Arab world. This sounded like a good start to the day - the sun was out and the institute was a short walk away so off we went with our hosts, Robert and Joan.

We arrived at the building. We were allowed in after a bag check. We walked up to the ticket desk waving our museum passes only to be told that the building was closed for refurbishment. We could see this was happening because there were any number of men feeding cables through ducts. The staff were sorry.

Being closed for refurbishment became a theme of the day. Later on we decided to have lunch at the large airy cafeteria in the Louvre where you can create your own salad but sadly it was closed. For refurbishment. So we made do with a sandwich we bought at a stall on a landing.

Then we thought that since we'd missed seeing Arab art in the morning we would check it out in the Louvre since we were there and we could see a sign more-or-less saying 'Arab art this way'. So we began walking in that direction and got hopelessly lost. We wound up in a gallery describing itself as Graeco Roman and nearly every exhibit was missing (obviously being refurbished).

By now we were fairly sick of the Louvre so headed for the Jardin des Tuileries on our way to Musée National de l'Orangerie. Now our mood changed completely and we had smiles on our faces again. I was fairly staggered by the size of the gardens. I know I have visited them before but they can't have made any impact on me because this felt like my first visit. The French do love their formal gardens. There are wide avenues to stroll along and wonderful arrangements of flowers in the borders. The grass is all roped off so you can't walk on it, unlike at home where we are likely to leave food left-over from barbecues lying all over the place. There are endless numbers of outdoor cafés serving delicious pastries and coffee. After sampling the food and drink we needed to visit the loo. Sorry, it's closed for refurbishment - (go find another one).

Refurbs aside we made it to l'Orangerie at the earnest recommendation of Robert and Joan. They had been knocked out by an exhibition of Paul Klee's art and some very large paintings of waterlillies by Monet. We had a sense of being underwater while we were there and I felt I wasn't so much looking at the paintings as being consumed by them. I could understand it when Robert had said that he had felt claustrophobic when he was in these galleries.

Paul Klee's work was a revelation to me. I have been familiar with his name for decades and really knew nothing about him. He was Swiss, he taught at the Bauhaus until the Nazis made life impossible for him, he was a talented musician and poet as well as a painter. Quite a lot of his work is on a small scale as is mine and I felt I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. He is definitely someone I'd like to know more about and this made me very happy.