To Africa and Back
After an inspired yet traditional lunch at La Petit Tour (read about it: The F Word) I took my time doing some window shopping and people watching as I went. I found this beautiful building on my way and took about 50 pictures of it from every angle. I shared my favorite.
I walked through the same neighborhood, waiting for my food to digest so I could proceed on to some authentic French pastries. I can’t imagine visiting Paris and not going to a bakery, so I eventually stumbled upon one with pastries and chocolates encased in glass on either side of the building. I was so enchanted by all the pastries that I didn’t even think to pull out my camera and document where I’d been or what I’d gotten. Though my pastry was some sort of coffee goo-filled cake with a puff of coffee-flavored cream on top. With no place to sit, I left and continued walking, hoping to find a place to relax and eat my pastry.
As I walked, I noticed something very peculiar about the people in Paris. A bit similar to what you see around New York City, everywhere I looked, people were walking past with pastries, sandwiches and various other food items wrapped in papers, eating as they walked. Inspired by their ability to multitask (and unable to ignore the fragrant coffee sweetness coming from my pastry bag,) I decided to give it a go. I got a few bites in before realizing cream-filled pastries are not the best to-go foods. I quit eating, but I felt like I fit in eating while I walked.
I walked for a bit, lost, and stumbled upon this beautiful gem of a square where two benches were sat in the middle of a traffic circle. I sat down, and I was rewarded with a beautiful little church in front of me, an architectural treasure I would otherwise have missed if it weren’t for this damned messy pastry.
It was getting late, and I was getting sleepy. Afterall, by this point I had been awake for about 24 hours. And I’d done a lot of walking. I was seriously considering walking back to the train and going to the airport to rest, but there was one thing that kept me in Paris just a little longer: Musee d’Orsay.
I like museums. I like art. But nothing gets me like impressionism, and if you didn’t know, Musee d’Orsay is the museum for impressionism, post-impression, neo-impressionism…pretty much anything you can tack on to impressionism. I was in the city; I could not miss the opportunity to see my favorite artists up close and in person.
Back to the RER.
It was a short ride, and when I emerged from the subway, the Musee d’Orsay was right around the corner. How did I know, you wonder? By the mass huddle of people crowded in front of the building. I looked around for signs to make sure this wasn’t
The Louvre that other popular museum that everyone goes to see, but alas. Impressionism was worthy of a line that took at least 45 minutes to clear.
As I stood in line, I began to worry that my camera bag and camera itself might be a problem. There were signs everywhere that said no backpacks, no photography…what if I got to the front of the line only to be turned away? I would be crushed. I thought about dipping out of the line, but . . .
What would be more disappointing? An hour wait resulting in nothing? Or knowing you may have missed your chance at seeing more Impressionist paintings than you could have imagined in one place?
And that is why I stayed in line. The wait was nearly an hour. I held my breath as I bought my tickets, still nervous that they would say I couldn’t bring my backpack. Or my camera.
In to the security checkpoint. You can’t take any pictures. The guard told me as I presented my bag and camera for inspection. I nodded furiously, and he waved me through. I was in.
As good fortune would have it, in addition to all the permanent Degas works housed upstairs, the museum was also holding an exhibition called Degas et le Nu or Degas and the Nude. It just so happens Degas is one of my absolute favorites, and probably my most admired artist. I love pastels, but I am not comfortable using them. Degas is an inspiration and a master of that medium, so nothing could make me happier than the promise of beautiful Degas nudes.
I spent a lot of time in the exhibition; too much, in fact. By the time I was finished, I felt rushed as I went from one room to the next. I found photographs and paintings predating Impressionism, but I really didn’t have time to appreciate it. I needed to sit for a minute since the weight of my camera bag were finally too much for me to handle. On my way to a relaxing bench, I passed the most beautiful marble statues depicting heroes and gods. Sculpture is one of my favorite mediums; I regret not being able to stop and appreciate it more.
I considered leaving then as the pain pulsated from my shoulder blade out through my arm, up my neck and down my back. But the longer I sat, the more the pain dulled. And I did not wait all that time to miss seeing the Impressionists. Back to my feet.
I followed the signs here and there, until I saw a sign pointing up to see works by Van Gogh.
I am a sucker for Van Gogh.
Up I went, back and forth, searching for what had been promised to me. There was a fantastic display (if you could find the entrance) of Post- and Neo-Impressionist work upstairs that I spent some time looking at. I was a bit panicked though as the time grew closer and closer to closing. I darted around looking for the Impressionism collection.
The vague signs had me up and down the same stairs at least three separate times, to the back of the building, up and down then up again a new flight of stairs, and even back to the ground floor, ready to admit defeat. Finally, I saw some people walking about 4 floors up. How did they get there?
It was then that I realized another set of stairs that the signs had been (vaguely) pointing to all along. The museum was so close to closing, but…I had to try.
I labored up the steps, the shoulder bag weighing on my neck. I got up to a floor I had not yet been before I came to an area that had been blocked off on either side. A woman stood there.
Bonjour. She continued in French, but realizing I was lost, she switched to English. Where are you trying to go?
I was just trying to find the Impressionists, I huffed, nearly out of breath. By this point, I had been up and down at least 10 flights of stairs – probably more – as I second-guessed where I was going. The woman looked at her watch and paused.
Take the elevator, she smiled and pressed the button. Then again. It wasn’t coming, so she hit it a few more times before we saw any movement. I got in and she hit the button and waved. It felt a bit surreal, like she was sending me up to some magical place.
And for me, it kind of was.
The Impressionist collection was so much larger than I ever could have imagined. What appeared to only be about 3 or 4 rooms was an endless walk back to the opposite side of the museum. The whole floor was dedicated to Impressionism, from front to back. I took in every single painting. There was one section dedicated to the first exhibit ever of Impressionism: it was, in whole, the first exhibit that introduced the world to this movement. I could feel myself tearing up. I was absolutely in awe. There were very few Manets, so I spent a little extra time marveling at those. I teared up at a Cezanne, and again at one of my favorite Monet paintings. I have never had such an emotional experience at a museum, art or otherwise. All those books and all those classes and here I was, standing right in front of the real thing(s).
Once I’d had my fill – I was one of the last to leave – I made a quick stop at the gift shop to pick up some souvenirs from the only attraction I’d really visited in Paris. When I stepped outside, the ground was damp and the sky was even gray – despite almost burning up in the sun while in line. The museum front was a completely different place without the crowd of people. I looked at my clock, deciding whether I had time to grab a quick snack. I headed down a small street dotted with a few street performers.
At the very end of the street, I found exactly what would complete my Parisian experience: a lovely cafe offering a delicious cheese plate. I can’t believe I almost left Paris without sampling some gourmet cheeses.
I don’t remember the name of the cafe, but it was cozy; the atmosphere more closely resembled a pub than a restaurant. Which was perfectly fine considering the very large bar that greeted guests as they walked in. I nibbled on my cheese plate, eating until I was too full to move, and even nibbled on a bit of Swiss cheese just to give it a try. My Parisian excursion was coming to an end.
Just one more train ride, and I would be on my way to South Africa.
Or so I thought.