Thursday, October 21, 2010

Heaven is in the Details

Well, you knew this day was coming. This was a pretty churchy trip, and eventually we made it to the most famous Church of them all. (Well, other than that one in Rome.)

Notre Dame de Paris. Nearly 200 years in the making, many hundreds more as a gothic inspiration.

They say that heaven is in the details. Lately, I've taken that to mean that if you want to get to the crux of the thing, anything, look closer. See the big picture, sure, but keep looking until you see the things that go into it.

I would say that that approach works particularly well at a place like this cathedral. It has survived the Hugenots, the Revolution(s), Napoleon, the Commune, the Nazis and, well, just hundreds and hundreds of years. And it is Massive.

And awe-inspiring.

And ornate.

And see, just in these few images so far - the details start to emerge and tell a story that has more impact than what happens if you just go and get overwhelmed by this Big Huge Obligation of a Church. You notice the way the vast Rose window works from the outside, and you see the light pouring through it from the inside. You take in the Holy Mother ("Notre Dame" refers to her, after all) with her baby, flanked by angels in the front window. You might take a look at some of the other 36 (!) representations of her in and around the Cathedral. You look at the other figures sculpted into and onto the edifice.

And then you climb up to the top.

The way that happens is that you climb a bunch of stairs and then they make you wait in a holding area (which also serves as a gift shop, of course! They wouldn't want you to miss a chance to buy stuff.) until enough time has passed that some of the people already up there have gone back down, then you climb a whole BIG bunch of more stairs. We positioned ourselves so that we were at the front of the line when they opened up the door, so we wouldn't get caught behind any slowpokes, and Cory took the opportunity to charge up those steps. She seriously was on a mission. By the time we were about halfway up, it was she and I and one other guy who decided to keep up with us, and the rest of our group was way back behind.

And of course once we made it, Paris was there to greet us.

Sacre Coeur through the fog.

And the gargoyles were, if anything, even more amazing than I'd imagined.

Those of you who know your Gothic architecture (I, of course, am now an expert on Gothic architecture, having read at least two online articles and a few tourbook entries) realize that most of these guys are actually chimeras, rather than gargoyles (which are only properly so called when they function as water spouts) and that they were added as part of a 19th Century renovation.

What's incredible to me is how many individual treatments there are - each with its own character and, again, its depth of detail. This one may be the most famous, situated to greet you as you emerge from the stairs, and having been so often referenced in other art works. (Including, my nephew was quick to point out, The Simpsons.)

So many characters, each one unique. These are all full color photos, by the way (though that teaser from the earlier post was a B&W)

Now that you're fully involved in attending to details, you're surely wondering something along the lines of "Hey... wait a minute! If this was such a gray day, what's up with that blue sky and those cottony nuages in the establishing shot for this entry?"
Well, you caught me. We did stop by the Cathedral on two separate days. on Saturday, when it was bright and sunny, we took in the outside, and strolled through the sanctuary (that's also why the colors in the stained glass are so vibrant.) On the day we went to the top, Paris was muted by clouds.
Here are a few 'true gargoyles' from both days, with their functions as drain spouts still active.

One other thing before I go. Compare this last shot with the other two images of the most iconic chimera in this series (we'll call him "Moe") See how he changes depending on the light, on the juxtaposition with the other figures, or with the horizon and Sacre Coeur.

It's a pretty nifty world. Look closer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to that Saturday in Paris

From the Opera House (remember the Opera House?) we made our way through the 1st Arrondisement (by way of the only disappointing meal we had the entire trip - I was so hungry and in need of caffeine by that point I allowed my judgment to slip and took Cory down with me. Sad. And we thought we were being so clever!) to feast on some art without a camera in tow.

L'Orangerie was the first stop. Stunning. Monet had a hand in the design and layout of the galleries of the upper level (where we concentrated our limited time there). An empty vestibule is situated there simply for the purpose of providing a moment of transition between the outside world and two very large oval rooms, each full of vast and justly iconic water lillies paintings. Monet's personal testament to peace, to the subtle and variable beauty of nature, to the silent center. It is a magnificent place, worthy of great respect, not to say reverence. You should go.

Walked through the Tuilleries to get to the grandest Musee of them all: the Louvre. Of course. We'd been there that first night - just walked through the corridor and heard a really good sax player and saw the pyramid and drank in the gorgeousness of the night. This was different. This was a full-on weekend day with buckets of tourists (including us) vying for a view. Now, the Louvre is too big to handle in a day. WAY too big. So we chose a few items of particular interest and saved the rest for another visit. Probably nothing you wouldn't also choose to see on your first visit: the Nike of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, the Greek Friezes, the Mona Lisa.

SO - I will restrain myself to two things to say on the subject:

1) the Winged Victory/Nike is astounding. Truly awesome, in the sense of inspiring Awe. Powerful, amazing, alive. You can't get it from a picture. Trust me.

2) I may be the only person I know who was not disappointed by the Mona Lisa. This probably has to do with the fact that I've spent my whole life hearing people come back and talk about how small it is, and how disappointing it was, which led me to lower my expectations. Yes, the gallery was ridiculously crowded, and yes, it's behind this really think bulletproof glass and yes you have to stand several feet back. But even given all of that, I gotta say - this painting is kind of worth the hype. The photos do not do it justice, and neither do essays on sfumato. La Giaconda is quite the gal, and she's worth meeting in person.

But I will admit, I'd like to find a way to spend time with her away from the crowds...

Friday, October 15, 2010

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

Am I a total dork for making my New Year’s Eve plans in October? Maybe so. But we’re going to see Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom, so I’ll live with your derision.

AND – as an added bonus: when I visited Patti’s website today just after buying our tickets, I noticed that she posted her own memorial for Joan Sutherland (and a Frenchified 'souvenance' at that). To add to Patti’s celebration of the numeracy of Joan passing on 10-10-10, I’ll add the personal touches that Cory and I went to Melanie and Damon’s wedding on that day, and that it was my grandfather’s birthday.

It’s well worth clicking on the Lucia di Lammermoor video that Patti embedded in her post.

Ave atque vale, and grosses bises, Dame Joan.


Going back in time a bit...

After the Rodin Museum, we went to Musee d'Orsay, which was fantastic and incredible. Cory and I relied on some podcasts on this trip, and this was one of the places they came in handy. We didn't really have time to cover the whole place, so we let an online guide help us out. Some cheesy Rick Steves humor aside, it was useful to have some direction to streamline our visit, and the background information was rather good. Some of the info was outdated (floorplans/layouts evidently change with some frequency in Parisian museums) but that just gave us some small mysteries to solve. We communed with Degas and Renoir, Courbet and Cezanne, Daumier and Delacroix, Millet and Gaugin in this architectural wonder of a reclaimed railroad station. We got there too late in the day to get into what looked to be a pretty bitchin Van Gogh exhibition. But what the hell - you can't do everything.

Then we made our way to St. Chapelle where we were meeting friends for a piano concert. We had to wait on line outside for a bit longer than we'd thought, but that gave us the time to grab a quick cup of espresso from one of the friendly local establishments. (The Parisian's reputation for rudeness is not deserved, on the whole. Certainly no more so than in most of the places I've been.) St. Chapelle is gorgeous, with a fascinating history that I'll have more to say about later. Its beauty was very much muted by the evening darkness, but that helped to place a focus on the music. It was a concert of Chopin and Schumann solo piano works, in honor of this year being the 200th birthday for both composers. The pianist was Hugues Chabert, with whose work I must admit I was unfamiliar. It was a fine, intimate performance in a space that was sublime on a number of levels: accoustic, architectural. historical, aesthetic. And since I'm closer to worshipping music than any religious doctrine, let's go ahead and say it was a spiritual experience too.

As if that weren't enough, we then took a walk over to the Right Bank, where we sought a place to eat without the benefit of personal (or guidebook) recommendations, and settled on a no-frills but thoroughly delicious spot. I don't remember what Cory had*, but my duck confit was fab, and so was the Bordeaux that Johnathan picked out.

It was a pretty good day.

*Cory just reminded me that she had Quiche Lorraine. She enjoyed it. It felt very French.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Banksy Couch Gag

This tidbit of the cautionary clever is not just my entr'acte to posts about Paris, but is also a spur to those of you who need a little reminder that now is not the time to be politically complaisant or defeatist.

Now is EXACTLY THE TIME to be active and vote-y and inspired and inspirational. Or else, like Al Jean says, the holes in all your DVDs will be punched out by sad unicorns.

And yes, you should feel free to have a discussion on the nature and purpose of FOX hiring - or at least allowing to be hired - a radical graffiti artist to design a 'subversive' title sequence (aimed squarely at itself) for one of the most prominent satirical voices of the last 2 decades, in the light of the world we live in today. Proceed.

For some more direct prodding, take a glance at this editorial, about a part of the country that is rather personal to me, and that historically knows better.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Day at the Opera

It seems only fitting that on the day we are mourning the very much beloved and sorely missed Joan Sutherland I take the opportunity to share some notes from our trip to the Garnier Opera House.

We had a long and fervent walk to the Opera House from our Hotel - there was no good Metro route, we weren't down with the buses at that point, and we sort of underestimated the distance. I slept in a bit more than usual that morning (can't really explain that - the wine? travel catching up with me?) and so we didn't get going as early as we'd have liked, and there was an English Language tour we wanted to make it for, so we really hoofed it to get there. No stopping for croissants, no stopping for cafe: not a recipe for a happy morning couple. But we made it just in time for the tour - only to find a huge long line extending onto the street.

Cory took the French approach and went in through an alternate door to ask for some guidance; which we got, advising us to completely blow off the line to get on an interior line for the tours. Where we waited. And waited. The French way of dealing with queues is singular. There's plenty of pushiness, and not much devotion to order; but there's also not really much in the way of hurrying or urgency. Eventually we found out that the English tour was totally sold out and there wouldn't be another one until the next day (because of a dance performance taking place that afternoon). So we opted for a self-guided visit to this incredible building and hallowed hall of music.

We did miss something by not having someone take us through it, but the place is gorgeous no matter how you slice it.

We had no access to the orchestra seating area. Only people on tours got to go there. (Stifled shouts of frustration.) But we got to see Chagall's incredible ceiling from a box in the corner.

We made up for some of our bad luck by having the very good luck of seeing the painted faux curtain on the drop when we stopped into the other corner box. It was only down for a couple minutes, and it was very dark, so the image isn't so hot, but it gives you a sense.

The ceiling from the other box. It was truly awe-inspiring.

Notice the details of scenes from operas and ballets. Daphnis et Chloe; The Firebird; etc.

Les Troyens; Castor et Pollux; Swan Lake; Boris Godunov; the Magic Flute; Fidelio; on and on...

Had to get a shot of the Phantom's box (Number 5)

And the obligatory shot of me dancing in a holy place. (No trip is complete without one or two of those.)

This is nothing close to a worthy testament to the memory of La Stupenda, but I'm glad I could put something out there for her today.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Post Production

We pause now so I can give myself a little pat on the back.

I'm getting better at the post-production stuff in the photo department. Can you guys tell which photo in the last series had me pulling out the magic to hide a woman standing behind one of the sculptures? Can you see where she was?

In other news, what the hell is going on with Cincinnati's defense?!?

Musee Rodin (or, Hell is in the Details)

After a most delectable lunch of galettes and cider with Christina and Johnathan at a creperie called Josselin, we went over to the Rodin museum to get our sculpture on.

The weather turned before long.

So we just took that opportunity to go to the indoor part of the museum (converted from the residence where Rodin lived for several years toward the end of his life).

For this next one, I pretended to be shooting a sculpture but got a nice shot of Cory peeking around it

It was a fantastic museum, of course. I wasn't too shutter-happy inside, but when we went back outside, I got drawn into the Gates of Hell pretty deep.

Like Milton and Marlow, Bosch and Goethe and (especially) Dante, Rodin had a special fascination with the infernal, and and it was the subject of some of his best work.

I'm the first to admit that it can damage the experience (and be just plain annoying) to spend one's travels totally focused on taking photographs or shooting video. But by the same token, if you maintain a balance, the camera can help you pay attention to visual elements in a number of ways. I spent a lot of time on this trip engaging with details in some fairly grand works of art and architecture.

You can see the raindrops on the bronze in some of these - it rained pretty hard while we were inside, and it sprinkled on and off when we went back out too.

Rodin worked directly from Dante's Inferno to make this masterpiece, and he incorporated elements of some of his other major sculptures.

It was a pretty wonderful museum experience. This was mid-afternoon on our second day there.

I'll leave you for now with a reminder that the Eiffel Tower should never be interpreted to have any phallic significance whatsoever.