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Séjour en France. Cha 11. Paris As Art
We weren’t ten steps out of the Metro when I reached for my son, Pete, who was showing me my first sights in France, in Europe, in fact, and grabbing him by the arm I said, “Wait, wait. Stop. I cannot believe this. I cannot believe what I am seeing. This is astounding.”
I could not help myself, I just stood and stared and let all I was seeing seep and sink into me, wondering to myself, "Is this really true?" At that moment I realized I was actually standing in a special place, I was not just in Paris, I was in an art gallery of astounding and fabulous proportions that is Paris. Wait, Paris is an art gallery. Unbelievable. Inconceivable, except that here I am looking at it.
Seeing this awesome display of human imagination and outstanding artistic achievement it is easy to understand how so much great art has been conceived and created here. It is also easy to understand why so many of the world’s greatest artists converged to work here.
But even before stepping out of the Metro, there is art show on the walls you pass by on the way out and up the stairs.
Even the Metro itself is art.
Back outside and onto the boulevard, check out this simple store front display.
And that stunning beauty can only inspire more of the same. It is as if Paris and Parisians cannot help but produce beauty.
Here is a lamp post with élan. Check out the elegant curve.
The poetic movement of a Metro sign.
Right away it is clear that here is a country of people who appreciate the finer things in life. Beauty. Art. Things pleasing to the eye, to the soul. To the spirit.
And it is not just what is seen, but what is not seen. Space. Space stands out here. Space and distance.
And you feel expansive because of it. It is huge. It draws you out of yourself and into it.
As soon as you walk the streets you feel it and sense it, gradually feeling the way you do sitting by an ocean, or on a mountainside. Everything you look at has natural contour, both within itself and with the sun playing on it, creating shadows and shades and textures. Every sight pleases the eye and opens the senses, jumping inside of you and expanding the imagination.
Standing on a boulevard you feel the sky pulling your eyes upward, then down, moving back and forth, finally landing on the gray buildings providing a wonderful backdrop for all this. The buildings themselves are so spectacular you delight at looking at everyone of them, noticing how each is dressed with a colorful array of wrought iron and flowers, and you feel opened up and beautiful yourself because of it.
Even though it is a city of great space, Paris
is an intimate city. It is big and broad, while at the same time within reach.
How can you not feel at once delighted and enchanted? The French have the right word for this: magnifique.
The idea of a place, a city, being an art gallery was an unfathomable idea, notion, thought to me until this moment. I mean, who would ever think such a thing? A city as an art gallery? My skin rippling.
Every single work on display reaches the level of the highest thing we humans aspire to: art. Parisians have not only aspired to it, they have reached that plateau again and again. What an amazing people. How can the world not love the people of Paris, of France, for what they have given to it?
No wonder Paris is the most visited city in the world. And for every one of those persons visiting, every one becomes inundated with what this great city gives to them. It becomes part of their skin, their cells, part of their joints, ligaments, digestion. It becomes their blood. When they leave, they know they have experienced one of the wonders of the world.
And what of those living here, if in every waking moment they experience this art and beauty, when they go to sleep they must take it with them, mustn't they? And see it in their dreams, in their images, their thoughts and feelings?
How can they not see this beauty in their sleep if beauty is all they see during their waking hours? And if beauty is all a person know awake and asleep, it follows that they will naturally create it themselves when they are awake. And they obviously do, which is why this great city is the way it is.
It is as if everyone here is an artist. No matter what they do, it is so intrinsically a part of them, they can only contribute to the art already here. Even if they never put pen to page, brush on canvas, hand to clay, they still contribute by appreciating and keeping it up.
One look around and you know that is true. Anything and everything you see, taste, smell or inhale, is rendered with the artist’s hand. Ah, how lucky these people born and living here, to be able to call themselves French citizens. These are a select people, the ones given special treatment.
You happen to look up and are met with sights like this.
That no one who has been to Paris has talked to me about this stuns me. This is not only the greatest art gallery in the world; it has within it the greatest, as well as some of the greatest art galleries in the world. Amazing.
Check out this sculpture adorning French windows
or a sculpture just adorning. You have got to be kidding me, right?
The beauty I have seen here in France was unimaginable for me until today. My friend mentions New York and some of its beautiful buildings. True enough, but what is beside those buildings? I ask. Here is beauty without interruption. Paris. What a gem.
Further along tall French windows, and outside those windows proliferations of flowers hanging from intricately designed wrought iron fences, gates and porch railings. The brightness of the red flowers jump out.
What magnificent planning that made this city what it is. What an amazingly positive and high level attitude it took to bring about this constant and consistent degree of art and beauty.
I was enchanted from the first moment and seeing all this with my first eyes, I was so surprised, stunned, I had to stop from time to time to center myself. Either that or I might have fallen over. To see astounding and beautifully carved statues and elegant sculptures everywhere, I could only stop and stare.
I mean, here I am checking out this building,
and then my eye falls on the entrance gate. A gate? Look at this thing.
And then this.
How can there be this much beauty be in one place? In every place the eye lands, at everything the eye sees is three hundred and sixty degrees of beauty. It is astounding.”
And how about this?
Like experiencing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, it makes me want to bow to the majesty of it.
Place des Vosges, or, Place Royale.
The Place des Vosges, inaugurated in 1612 with a grand carrousel to celebrate the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, is the prototype of all the residential squares of European cities that were to come
It has been the home of king Louix XIII, courtesans, writers, including Victor Hugo, and Impressionist painter, Georges Dufrénoy.
Geez, you look up at a cathedral and there are all these gnomes running up and down and across, some of them ready to jump. You could spend the day following all the activity.
Not to mention the church itself, Cathédrale Notre-Dame
Then your eye moves along and into the sky and comes back down and looks into the Seine River, where it sits moving in its current, tracing down under a bridges covered with sculpture on top, the sides and facings.
Pont Alexandre III
The bright and big space around you carries you from one sight to the next. Across the wide boulevard the buildings are a perfect height so you can easily and effortlessly lift your eyes to the sky.
Mind and eye wandering this way, I realized I was dropping into that place within myself where my immediate surroundings begin to and then do, disappear, and into the place where art is conceived and rendered. The vast wonderland within myself opening up and expanding the imagination, a place of no boundaries, no judgments, where rules are cast aside, where from one instant to the next mountains become valleys, sky becomes ocean, desert becomes meadows of flowers. This vast world of wonder working its magical journey and takes you along with it into a world wider and deeper than the largest desert or ocean, so huge it encompasses the entire planet and beyond.
Anywhere else you have to create that environment within yourself, in Paris it is comes upon you. You become it. Paris is it. Paris is that space.
Before you know it, images and phrases move inside the imagination unannounced and unsummoned. You smell the smells, see the trees, the flowers, and you feel that inside the imagination air upon you. But it is not on you, is it? It is within you.
Once it starts talking there is no stopping it. The closest café will do. The waiter comes and takes a coffee order. Seeing the pen in hand scribbling wildly trying to capture a small part of what is going on in that vast imagination of the mind, he clears out right away.
He has seen this before. He does not know if this might be the next Jean-Paul Sartre or Balzac sitting and madly racing to get the words onto the page.
Me Writing at cafe le Dome, Montparnasse
It has happened here so often, there is every reason to believe it might be happening again right there again at that table. If you come with just a pen and grab a napkin, he places a stack of napkins next to the chocolate packet he has left with your coffee, showing reverence for this artist and act of art.
Your entire existence at that moment is imagination. You write furiously, capturing as many images and phrases passing by your inner vision as you can. The characters talking, the buildings appearing, the walls, rooms, mountains, the turn of a phrase, the tilt of a head, you struggle to get as many details down as possible: a man with a top hat wrapped around a table working a sketch pad with cognac at hand.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at Moulin Rouge
A lady concentrating on a sculpture.
You keep at it as if you are possessed. You scramble to capture every bit of it, especially the emotion, which is sometimes pleasant and joyous, sometimes despairing, and even if despairing it must be gotten down, pain pushed aside like residue. Times it is excruciating knowing phrases or images or thoughts pass by you are not able to get down and then are gone. At other times each word places one after the other just so and you are able to capture every detail, every nuance, every tiny little thing that was there. But those times are rare.
After a while the outpouring begins slowing down and dropping off, the imagination narrows until it closes and comes to a stop. Just as fast as that. Where did it all go? Not another word, thought or phrase calling. The pen is laid down, but kept within reach for those sometimes inevitable afterthoughts.
After it is over you take a look around and here you are again. When you come back you feel your body temperature. It is different, warmer than usual. The heart is beating heavily, each breathe is long. The eyes are sharpened. Everything looks like it is moving, you imagine, or you see the chair or table next to you rippling with energy. Finally, all the sounds around you come back and you are in the place you are sitting. The blast is over.
You look up. And what is before your eyes are bouquinistes, or Antique booksellers, book stalls, which were founded over three hundred years ago and have been on the Left and Right bank of the Seine since. No trinkets sold here, in fact, the city refuses to let the book stallers sell cheap trinkets. The emphasis here is beauty and quality.
Three quarters of what is in those book stalls must be books, and, there is an eight year waiting list for those wanting to have their own book stalls.
It is easy to understand why so many artists moved to Paris and became great writers or painters, chefs or architects, whatever. The air of Paris vibrates with art. "It is saturated with it," as Henry Miller said. You can taste it. It is palatable. Here you can sit down and create what you want, how you want, for however long you want. You can spend hours in the same cafe in the same seat, working. This city supports artists. Its people; its attitude inspires, mentors, encourages. Vincent Van Gogh painted 900 paintings in 9 years while here. And we know the quality of his work. Henry Miller wrote his greatest work, Tropic Of Cancer here.
As I stood in this reverie, Pete watched for a while, undoubtedly guessing what was happening within me, being an artist himself, before suggesting we move along.
He is right. It is time to move along. Still, it is hard to leave this spot, these sights, this fairyland. And it seems fairyland-like because it is so far from anything I have ever experienced, except in fairy tales.
Walking along you take in not only the large pictures, but the smaller details as well. The sculpting on the walls of buildings, sometimes framed within inlets,
or, or what? people stepping out of walls right in front of you? Incredible.
is everywhere. It is within steps of anywhere and everywhere you are. You
can hardly walk more than a few steps without seeing a sculpture of one sort or another, if they are ever out of sight at all.
In fact, you could almost say sculpting stands out more than
anything else in Paris. Père Lachaise Cemetery is filled with so
sculpture I could almost sit with them gathered around me. It is a vast
and astounding garden of sculptures. It is almost inconceivable, except
that it is. This is not a fairytale, this is real.
Here is Chopin’s headstone in that cemetery, plus others.
Polish composer, Frédéric François Chopin
A closer view.
And another beauty.
Jean Carries. "Scuplture and Miniture".
This cemetery, Père Lachaise, whoa, 70,000 people lie here. And what a grand place it is. I could spend days and days walking around in it, looking at the fantastic sculptural work, reading names, the inscriptions, having lunch, resting, maybe even finding a place to nap on one of the benches, before continuing on.
What a wonderful way this is of honoring such people as are here.
People such as:
French playwright Molière
Such sculpture. It is almost hard to conceive the scale of the magnificence of it here in Paris. I say almost because it is there before me. No almost about it.
Sculpture. Now there is a word I can only remember using rarely. If ever, in my life. Now I am seeing just how much I am continually using it. The word, the concept is almost foreign to me, it was just not part of my vocabulary growing up, not in any way.
As I said earlier, I was not prepared for any of this when I got on the plane to come here to Paris. I am flabbergasted by what I am seeing. No one ever talked to me about the amazing beauty here or the richness of art that is Paris. How could they not?
I am in constant state of intoxication, highly charged and positive being surrounded by all this. It is in every step I take. In everything I feel. It is remarkable. It is as if I am being tickled ever so slightly and pleasantly just below my skin. I can feel my whole body smiling. Every cell, every muscle of my body is smiling. I am end to end smile. And I am in harmony with the city and the city is in harmony with me. And it can only be this way because the people who made this great city are made that way.
What sights. It is hard to conceive of a place being so consistently beautiful. Well, for me it is hard to conceive. For Parisians it is every day life. They probably don’t think about it till get on a plane and go somewhere.
As I say, it is hard to keep walking. But then I must. Every now and then I lock onto something and stop and forget there is anything but the astounding art I am seeing.
How about this unique reading lamp in a store window in Montmarte?
What a delight to the eye Felista is enjoying.
Or this store front?
There is never a question of beauty here, it is just a matter of degree of the beauty you happen to be looking at at that moment.
It is all beauty.
The incredible thing about this is that these signs are probably designed by your everyday average Parisian.
And then you come across something like this, done by your not so everyday Parisian.
The Thinker. Auguste Rodin
Or you might happen to pass by the place of a famous painting.
Le Moulin de la Galette
Luncheon of the Boating Party, Auguste Renoir
Thinking back I realize I had no opinion of Paris. I just never heard anything about the amazingly high cultural level of this city. And that great cultural height is deep in every aspect of Paris. It is in the food, in the wine, beer. And the desserts, the desserts are remarkable. And as wonderful as all those desserts are, the chocolate mousse stands way above the rest. I have never experienced anything like it in my life. Talk about going to the next level, if you visit Paris, even if you do not see the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, or Versailles, you must have chocolate mousse, otherwise it is a wasted trip. Sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? Well, the answer is in the question. Don't forget it. Get it.
You would think something as mundane as a wrought iron gate would not raise an eyebrow, but check this out. Ornate and well cared for, painted brightly, black or green or whatever, and as intricate and beautifully designed as you are likely to see, and each one distinct. What eye pleasure.
Ah, beauty. It stands out. Whether designed by someone just a small circle of friends know the name of, or a world famous artist, when we see it we know it. Whether seen up close or from far away, we know it, we feel it, it becomes an intrinsic part of ourselves. It effects us so deeply we walk away from it a different person. Like reading a great piece of literature, once read it is inside us, and from that point forward the reader takes it with him or her forever.
Beauty is tangible and intangible at the same time. It is at once of the material world and of the ethereal world. You can touch it and at the same time you cannot. But it touches you. And it is more alive than anything else we experience in our lives and the more it touches us the more alive we are.
Like the tree falling in the woods, beauty is beauty, whether we see it that way or not, whether we call it that or not. And when we are surrounded by it, as is the case here in Paris, we are uplifted.
Being with beauty, being in beauty is like being in the sun, we are energized by it. The sun is beauty at its highest level. It is the highest vibration of energy we feel. It is the reason we exist. Just sitting in it warms, it sinks deeply inside. We feel its beauty because the sun is that.
It is no wonder the people here in Paris are so beautiful. That beauty is inside and out of each one of them. What a wonder to look at, to see, to experience.
If I were not experiencing this with my own eyes, my own senses, I might not believe it. It makes me weep to think of what I live with at home. It makes me weep even more for those who will never experience what I am experiencing, right now, in this moment.
We have all heard the cliché: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think that might be a western side of the Atlantic cliché. I don't imagine the French see it that way. It is one of the ten worst cliché's I have ever heard. Make that five. All that is is preference, or justification for accepting what is, even though what is is rotten. It is like happily electing a president only to find out he is a lout, but he is all there is and has to be lived with. Beauty needs no preference. It either is or it is not.
In every face I have seen here I see an uplifting tilt. The person might not even be looking up, but still you see it in their body language, in their bounce, in the positive moving energy emanating from them. It is as if everyone has a pleasant purpose they are fulfilling that very moment. That they look that good on the outside, speaks to their feeling that good on the inside. Their faces are clean, open, awake, positive and peaceful, with their facial lines running all along and showing the good lives they are living.
They are such beautiful people.Upright. Head held high. All dressed in a wonderful array of cuts and colors.
Love the hat, inside café le Coupole. Yes, the same place people such as Josephine Baker, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Salvador Dalí, Alexander Calder, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, to name just some, I'm sure, frequently visited. Imagine the conversations.
Even the street lamps are dressed up, in a square in front of the cabaret, Moulin Rouge (Red Mill).
Corinne with son, Pete
Love the beads
And if that is not enough, flowers, flowers and more flowers. A constant array of flowers and displays of flowers. You might even come across a Christmas tree of flowers, as here in Archial Cachon, where we are staying.
Or just flowers, everywhere, flowers in front of you, beside you, all around you. No matter where you go, no matter what street you are on or the activity, there are flowers, bright, red highlights, flowers everywhere. Astounding. I’ve never seen such a display before.
A tree on someone's verandah
Pouring out of windows.
It goes on.
Being here puts me in a different frame of mind than I have ever been in before. Whereas I used to look at everything around me as just so much passing time and hum drum, being in Paris is an eye opener of the greatest proportions for me. Now I know what is possible. Now I have seen and experienced with my own eyes and senses what can be, what is possible, and I will forever and always take it with me wherever I am and wherever I go, and I know I will be a better person for it. And now, when I return to the US, a place of store fronts and entertainment centers, where entertainment is preferred over art, work is preferred over living, I will know that this is the first day of a new life for me. Thank you Paris. Thank you France. Thank you Parisians past. Thank you Parisians present. Thank you for showing me what I had always intrinsically known, but had not experienced:
There is beauty in every waking moment
In all we do
In all we touch
In all we feel.