Saturday, June 27, 2009

Paris - Day 2

Saturday morning we hauled ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour, had our usual quick breakfast, and then walked in the cool air over to the Tuileries. I had never explored the gardens before, and I found myself underwhelmed--I'm not quite sure what I expected. They're pretty but something of a disappointment after the grandeur of Central Park, Golden Gate Park, or even various London parks, such as Kensington or Hyde Park.

We planned originally to spend the morning at the Musée de l'Orangerie but were sidetracked by the prospect of a special exhibition on Mount Athos at the Petit Palais. I'm very glad we took the detour. This is the first time these religious artifacts have left Greece. The exhibit was a surprise in several respects. First, we marveled at the excellent condition of the objects, especially the fine vestments that gleam with undiminished lustre. Perhaps the French government restored the artifacts as part of a deal struck with the monastery; perhaps they have never seen the light of day. Whatever the reason, everything was in fabulous shape. Second, I was struck by the difference between Greek and Russian icons. I have seen numerous icons on my trips to Russia with Rod, but they have neither the color nor complexity of these extraordinary works. The Greek monks seemingly possess an artistry and technique that renders their Eastern European counterparts primitive by comparison. And, finally, I was taken by the aerial photographs of Mount Athos and the sheer expanse of the monasteries, which are larger and more complex than I expected. Of course, being a woman, I will never see them.

Around 2.00 we walked over to Angelina's, a tea room and restaurant recommended to us last night by Australians here at our hotel. I ordered a salad with smoked salmon and vegetables. After all the elaborate food on the QMII, I can't bare to look at anything cooked right now. Rod had a superb cod served over chopped squash. We did on the advice of our acquaintances order dessert, which was unbelievably wonderful--the sort of pastry one simply does not get in the U.S. unless you're lucky enough to find a Michel Richard or a Boucheron. Rod had a flaky, light pastry filled with excellent custard; I ordered a confection that was essentially coffee-flavored brioche filled with coffee custard and topped with a thin crunchy layer of caramel. Neither one was sweet and both were divine. We fully intend to return.

Back in the 7th, we stopped at the Musée National Rodin, which is literally on the way to our hotel. Rodin lived in this building, what the French call a hôtel particulier, during the last years of his life (I believe the poet Rilke lived there too for a while). The building is shabby and rather sad. Rooms are not climate controlled and light beats down on paintings, several already ruined. The collection inside is mixed: a lot of plaster heads and figures by Rodin, basically rough versions of works he would eventually cast in bronze. I must admit to preferring many of the heads by his mistress, Camille Claudel, which are finer and more expressive. Outside in the lovely garden, though, is where one sees the magnificent bronzes and sculptures for which Rodin is known: the Thinker (overrated to my mind); the Gates of Hell (astonishing); and the Burghers of Calais (moving). I like Rodin best when he translates narrative to three-dimensional form: his interpretations of Dante are unsurpassed. I like less the endless nudes melting into stone (or emerging from stone, depending on your perspective), and I tired quickly of the infinite variations on The Kiss. While it's pleasant to gaze upon youthful flesh captured in ardent embrace, one can see it only so many times.

Now we are back at our hotel, resting and relaxing. Tonight we're heading out to a jazz club to hear a French singer who supposedly excels at a variety of genres.

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