Saturday, June 27, 2009
Paris - Day 1
We slept far too late this morning: I think we were still exhausted from all those late nights on the QMII (too much partying for these old fogies!). We hurriedly threw on clothes and then ambled down the street to our excellent local bakery. Fortified by good strong coffee and buttery rolls, we took a short walk to the Musée de l'Armée and the Tombeau de Napolean, both here in our neighborhood of the 7th arondissement. The collection of arms in the musée was extraordinary, unlike anything I have ever seen under one roof. One goes through room after room piled high with armor, early pistols, such as flint locks, and various implements for skewing victims, some truly terrifying in appearance. We saw early examples of medieval chain mail along with formal jousting armor for horse and rider. By the time we had exhausted the pre-Napoleonic period, we burnt out on implements of destruction.
The sheer breadth of the collection cannot fail to impress. The early weapons derive mainly from the royal collection of Louis XIV; somehow government ministers managed to save 25% from destruction in the French Revolution. The rest of the collection has been added to gradually. Of course, Napoleon did his bit. There's nothing like pillaging to build up one's museums.
By 1.30 we had seen enough evidence of humanity's penchant for destruction. Most disturbing is the artistry of these weapons: their purpose is to kill, but they also function as aesthetic objects. The craftsmanship is oftentimes breathtaking: one almost forgets the diabolical end of an exquisite broad sword decorated with filagree or encrusted with gemstones. Does aestheticizing weapons make them less threatening? Create categorical confusion? Encourage a warrior to imagine himself participating in a higher form of activity, the proverbial "art of war"? I left depressed.
We boarded the metro for the 8th arondissement, alighted near the Boulevard Haussmann and realized we were hungry. We tried a local bistro and had a respectable but not great lunch. It was warm and a bit humid today so neither one of us felt like cooked food. We opted for salades grandes, which were certainly grand in size if not in taste.
The real treat of the day was our trip to the Musée Jacquemart-André, a lovely collection acquired over many years by the nineteenth-century heir to a wealthy banking family, Edouard André. His wife continued building the collection after his death, an impressive array of Rembrandts, Botticellis, and Mantegnas. Frescoes by Tiepolo grace the ceilings, as well as the wall above the stunning curved staircase. I especially liked the portrait of the Comtesse Skavronskaia by Vigée Le Brun, in addition to the achingly beautiful painting of the young Mathilde de Canisy by Nattier.
The museum reminded me a bit of the Frick in New York; indeed, one can see how the great New York families modeled their upper East side mansions on these magnificent nineteenth-century edifices in the elegant 8th arondissement. Best of all, the museum is quite manageable: one can spend a leisurely two hours and have the sense of an individual collection built over a lifetime, hardly the sensation afforded by the Louvre or the Met. As we left, we caught a glimpse of the lovely tea room on the premises and kicked ourselves for not dining there instead of our indifferent bistro. We heard the lunches and pastries are superb; if we're back in that neighborhood, we might pop in before the end of the week.
Tired, we returned to our hotel, eventually joining a very nice Australian mother and her teenage daughter in the patio for drinks and conversation, a pleasant ending to an equally pleasant day.