Thursday, June 28, 2012

NEH Session, Musee Marmottan Monet & NYU--Paris

Thursday, June 278, 2012
Paris, France

NEH Session on Algerian Films:
I left poor jetlagged Llew still in bed this morning as I crept out quietly for my NEH session. I made sure that I had breakfast (croissants and Poilane's Pain Aux Noix)  and coffee all lined up for him as he has yet to feel his way around the kitchen in my apartment. We'd made plans to reunite at the Fontaine St. Michel at 1. 45pm when my NEH session would be done and we could spend the afternoon together.

Our second session with Malika Rahal was an analysis of the two films we had watched on Tuesday: Indigenes and Hors la Loi. As expected, it made for a vigorous exchange of ideas and the posing of several questions. Indeed the films lent themselves to a great deal of discussion and we covered a whole lot of ground from the historical inaccuracies that most historians are quick to point out when a really important film catches the public imagination to the grassroots reaction of contemporary Algerians in France today to films such a these. I found time fly by as we benefited from Rahal's wide research on the topic as well as first-hand field work in Algeria--not to mention her bi-racial heritage which, I do believe, offers her beneficial perspectives on the many controversies that are sweeping the nation.

At 12.45pm, our session ended and I rushed off to keep my appointment with Llew. I had suggested he take the RER train to Notre-Dame St. Michel and spend the morning on the Ile de la Cite, perhaps visiting the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the picturesque streets surrounding it and the little garden at the back. Llew managed to do all this and spied something I had missed: the Pont de L'Archeveche which, he explained, was affixed with hundreds of locks left behind by visitors as a token of their friendship or love for someone. I hadn't crossed that bridge on foot, so had never come across this unique Parisian feature.

A Walk around the Latin Quarter:
Since we were in the neighborhood, I then led him to the Musee de Moyen Age and the Thermes Cluny where, just as I had done, two weeks ago, he surveyed the magnificent Gothic mansion then sat in the garden opposite it and munched on the baguette sandwich that I had fixed him before I left him this morning. He also wanted to go out in search of a certain street which apparently had a huge sale of English books but despite walking up and down past the Sorbonne and the Pantheon, we were simply unable to locate the street and gave up in sheer frustration.

Off to see the Musee Marmottan Monet:
Jumping into the RER (C) train, we arrived (after a protracted journey during which we took a train going to another destination than the one we wanted) and arrived at the edge of the Bois de Bologne at about 4. 30 pm where the Musee Marmottan Monet is located. We were not worried by the lateness of the hour as we knew that the museum has late-evening opening (up to 9.00pm ) every Thursday. We felt that we could enjoy the supreme collection of Impressionist canvasses at our leisure. It was a long walk from the Bougainvilliers stations and it happened to be a hot and excruciatingly humid day--easily the worst, weather-wise, that I can remember since I arrived here. The walk to the museum not only exhausted us but dehydrated us as well as we had finished all our water supplies earlier in the afternoon. The Paris metro system also gets unbearable on summer days as the cars are not air-conditioned and they do not even have fans! It is unimaginable!

Well, there were worse challenges in store for us as we discovered. upon finally reaching the museum. There was a soiree in the evening and the museum would, therefore, be closing at 6.00 pm! I wanted to strangle the staff at the ticket counter. This would leave us a little more than an hour to see the collection. Of course, in my case, entry is always free (thanks to my Met ID) but Llew was expected to pay full price (10 euros) until I pointed out to the staff that it was unfair. They then offered him the discounted price of 5 euros!

A Fascinating Retrospective on Berthe Morrisot:
This meant that we raced to the basement to see the retrospective on the work of Berthe Morrisot, a female French Impressionist who worked very closely with the biggest contemporary names in the field as she was married to Eugene Manet, the brother of the famed painter Eduoard Manet. The exhibition opened with an exquisite portrait of Berthe by Edouard Manet and contained a vast collection of her work depicting family members closest to her (there were loads of portraits of her daughter Julie seen throughout her growing years), of her husband Eugene, of the homes they lived in, the vacations they took, walks through the neighboring Bois de Boulogne, etc. It was charming, it was delightful, it was well worth that fatiguing trek through the heat to feast our eyes on the works of a woman whose mother had the foresight to send her for art classes when she was a child so that she eventually ended up at the Academie de Beaux-Arts to learn painting formally from the best instructors of the time. What a lovely education! And what a fabulous legacy she has left behind! Ironically enough, the canvas that I thought was by far the best had traveled to Paris from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York!

The Grand Maison Marmottan:
We then made our way to the upper floors to take in the splendour of one of Paris' most glorious hotels particulier (private manions). Belonging to Jules Marmottan, it is decorated and furnished in French First Empire style with classical furniture and accessories (I really did covet the many fine examples of 'Paris porcelain') . The walls, ceiling and floors are simply stunning in their visual decoration. As we moved from one room to the next, we were treated to the splendor also of Impressionist paintings in the vast collection of Monet canvasses as well as key works by lesser Impressionist artists such as George Caillebotte. Sisley, Pisarro and Renoir who are also well represented in this collection. In fact, this museum contains the largest collection of works by Monet seen anywhere.

An unexpected find was the superb collection of Medieval and Renaissance mansucripts that are contained in one large dimly-lit gallery. These, too, were marvelous in their miniature detail. Overall, despite the fact that we had to hurry, the collection is small enough that we could see it all without feeling pressed for time. Of course, had we the luxury of more time, we would have lingered longer over the curatorial details, but although unable to do indulge, we did feel as if we did justice to the greatness of the works on display.

A Visit to NYU-Paris:
Realizing that we were not far at all from Rue de Passy, we decided to walk along to NYU's campus in Paris, which we had last visited three years ago. This time, we found the street packed with late-evening shoppers who brought a liveliness to the quartier that we hadn't noticed before. We entered the great portal that opens into the vast campus buildings hidden behind. They comprise a variety of architectural styles from Hausmann-type buildings with ornamental balconies attached to French windows and red brick buildings that remind me of the English Tudor style. In-between the buildings, there are lushly-planted gardens where--no surprize here--there was a garden party on with American students feasting on cheese and pizza! I walked freely among the series of buildings to take in the classroom and dorm room space and to get a sense of campus life here at our NYU premises in Paris. I thought of all my colleagues who, at some time or the other, have taught in these spaces and I tried to imagine myself teaching and working in this venue. It was a not altogether unattractive prospect! After taking a few pictures of the campus, we left through the wide portals and got out into the street.

Dinner Chez Nous:
At a local Monoprix, we bought a few groceries, then caught the metro from Passy, made a change at Denfert-Rochereau and were home in about 20 minutes. The two of us were simply drained by our exertions undertaken in unenviable climatic conditions. We certainly hope it will be cooler tomorrow. I jumped straight into the shower as I badly needed to cool off, then cooled off some more with an ice-cold shandy. We sipped our drinks before I put together a typically French, no-cook dinner for this sweltering day: proscuitto and melon for an entree, Quiche Lorraine with a green salad slicked only with a balsamic dressing for a plat and ice-cream for Llew and a lemon-lime yogurt for me for dessert. By the end of the evening, we had opened up every single window in our apartment and were looking for cross-ventilation to cool the rooms.

Llew spent most of the evening switching between the UEFA Football matches and the Wimbledon tennis ones while I pottered with my laptop trying to find worthwhile pursuits for tomorrow. We had tried to rent a car to drive to the Loire Valley but find that we are unable to get one at this 11th hour. Instead we shall stay and make the most of our time right here in Paris and tomorrow, our aim is to get out to Montmartre to take a 90-minute stroll in the area before exploring Le Musee de la Vie Romantique.

A demain!               

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