27 September 2011

Paris Days and Nights 4

Posted in Talking about . . .

It was a beautiful evening in Paris, and the Winged Victory at Samothrace simply soared . . .

As we were wandering the streets surrounding the hotel on Wednesday, we came across this:

The Eden Park The Eden Park

The Eden Park Pub

The Eden Park Pub - what a surprise! For those of you who don’t know this, Eden Park is the name of the rugby stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. The Eden Park Pub in Paris was started in 1992 by four Frenchmen and is apparently a very successful business. I wasn’t able to find out how it came to be called the Eden Park Pub – maybe one of you know? I also found these well-worn plaques on the bar:

Lancaster Park Newlands

Plaques at the Eden Park Pub: Lancaster Park, Christchurch and Newlands, Cape Town

We decided to go the Louvre on Wednesday evening because it is the museum’s late night - we hoped that it wouldn’t be crowded (particularly since the school holidays had ended) and we were right – there was no queue to speak of. We decided to do a self-guided tour with headphones of the 3 most famous pieces in the Louvre, taking in sections of the museum as we moved from one highlight to another. It was a good decision, because it took us 1 ½ hours, and we were saturated at the end of it. Obviously, with more time, one would go back for other “bites”.

BDH was here! Aphrodite

At the Louvre, from Left to Right: BDH was here!, Aphrodite

The first treasure was the Venus de Milo (or, more accurately, the Aphrodite de Milo, given that she is a Greek piece, and Venus is the goddess’ Roman name). She was created more than 100 years BC. The commentary was invaluable in giving us an appreciation of her form, her creation, and her creator. On the way to and from her, we got to see many magnificent Greek and Roman pieces, including Michelangelo’s Captive, Winged Mercury, and Cupid and Psyche (which was my Latin set piece for matric so especially memorable). As I recall, Cupid falls in love with the mortal Psyche, and he visits her at night under cover of darkness. She becomes pregnant and they marry secretly. However, she is never allowed to see his face or know his identity – talk about love being blind!

But, as is the way with mortals, her curiosity overcomes her compliance, and she spies on him with her oil lamp as he sleeps. He wakes as she drops hot oil on his shoulder and he flees, admonishing her with, "Love cannot live without trust". Pretty big generalisation, if you ask me – and all very well for him to say when he knows everything!

Psyche is then forced by Cupid’s jealous mother, Venus, to perform a series of superhuman tasks (as you do when your mother-in-law is a psycho-bitch). Psyche falls into a deadly sleep from which only Cupid's kiss can awaken her. This statue depicts the final scene in the story - Cupid has just arrived - his wings are still raised from his flight and they form an X with Psyche's body, joining them. And they lived happily ever after.

Ain’t that just like life – woman is disobedient and must suffer eternally; man is superhuman and is woman’s only hope for redemption and happiness; and mothers-in-law are mean – and that was all before the rise of Christianity!

Captive Winged Mercury Cupid & Psyche

Classical genius (from Left to Right): Michelangelo’s Captive, Winged Mercury, Cupid & Psyche

We then moved onto the pièce de résistance for me – the Winged Victory at Samothrace. This statue of the Greek goddess, Nike (the goddess of victory), was created nearly 200 years BC and is well over 3 metres high. Nike flew around battlefields rewarding the victors with glory and fame, and this statue represents Nike landing on the prow of a victorious ship. Apparently, Nike's right arm was raised, cupped round her mouth to deliver the shout of Victory. It is easy to imagine that she has just landed into the wind – her wings still outstretched for balance, and the oncoming wind forcing her garments to mould against her body and billow out behind her. Her position in the museum is guaranteed to evoke wonder, situated at the top of the Daru staircase and isolated from the other galleries. I was really moved by the power and beauty communicated by the sculpture, and the experience really set me up for disappointment in front of the Mona Lisa.

Nike on the Daru Staircase

Winged Victory at Samothrace: Nike on the Daru Staircase

Nike Nike

Closeups of the Mighty Nike Just Doing It

The last time I saw the Mona Lisa was nearly 40 years ago. It was simply hanging on a wall among the other paintings, and the only restriction placed on tourists was that you couldn’t use a flash when taking pictures of it. Today, it hangs in the middle of a huge wall that cuts across the long gallery in which it is situated, and is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bulletproof glass. There is also a substantial roped-off area in front of it, so you can’t even get close enough to study it. In my very humble opinion, the painting is dwarfed by the wall on which it hangs, and has lost its power. But I understand that there is always a risk that some misguided soul will try to steal it or destroy it, so it has to be like that. The unfortunate part is that it’s a small painting, so, unlike the Victory, it is minimised by its isolation rather than maximised.

I did love the gallery of Byzantine art – religious icons characterized by their abundant use of gold and other precious metals. But then, I have always been a sucker for shiny things . . . The Louvre itself is also awe-inspiring – a colossal edifice and monumental representation of man’s desire for power and creative capacity. Whether you’re standing some distance away so that you can see the whole thing, or walking for hours through its corridors and galleries, the size and scale are stupendous.

After we’d finished at the Louvre, we went out for our Last Supper at L’ Enfance de Lard – a little restaurant we found during our wanderings. Turns out, it’s really good (Google it and you’ll see lots of positive reviews) – a lucky find! I don’t get the name of the place – directly translated it means something like “Childhood of bacon/fat” - ? Maybe one of you Francophiles could explain. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and the atmosphere – a fitting close to our wonderful week in Paris.

And did I mention the glorious figs and peaches we’ve been eating across France? And did I mention the kindnesses of the people we’ve met? And did I mention the exquisite evening light on the Seine as we made our way home after the Louvre? And did I mention the lift at the Hotel?

Our Last Tango in Paris The Lift

Our Last Tango in Paris and The Lift

Thursday morning came all too soon, and we packed up and left the Hotel Bonaparte. The manager took our room key and casually said, “Shall I keep it for you until you come back?” Aaaah…….

We took a taxi to the station to catch our train to Amsterdam , and were lucky enough to encounter an archetypal Frenchman in our driver. He drove fast and furiously – gesticulating and shouting at other drivers or pedestrians (and probably the world) – and he spoke enough English to assure us that we hadn’t stayed in Paris long enough to find out just what a nasty bunch the Parisians really are! I don’t believe that. I’m totally in love with Paris. It’s the most beautiful and charming place I’ve ever been to. And I don’t care if my glasses are rose-coloured. I’m heartbroken to be leaving.

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Comments (1)

  • corina
    28 September 2011 at 22:22 |

    Wow, your paris entry really evoked strong memories of my short time there by myself. I had caught the train from Amsterdam and had never been to Paris , never been on an international train , let alone just little me. I also stayed on the left bank in a little 3 star hotel with interior that looked like it dated from the 30s, hight of Mont Mart days. I also LOVED Paris, so voila! So pleased youve been having such a good time. Next stop Amsterdam.....

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