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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Of massages and gommages, tangines and sweet tea.

Last night when I came home, the tower was enshrouded in fog. If I hadn’t known it was there, I wouldn’t have known. (very philosophical – if a tree falls in a forest…!)  Well, this is Paris, have to think philosophically.  After five or ten minutes, it began to emerge again. By 11pm it started its nightly dance of light, as always.  I’d promised myself to stay awake each night for at least  one five minute show. Haven’t missed it yet. There may have been a couple of nights when I saw all of them.  Can’t let myself miss it if I’m awake.

Now, here I am again with my late morning Tower ritual. I have to crane to see it from my comfy position on the couch, which I do every five or 10 minutes. Not sure why the compulsion. Will I ever again be able to stay in Paris without a view of the tower?  From here it’s like a toy version of itself. I almost feel as if I could reach out and pick it up, maybe spin it by the top like a top.  I’ve seen those at some point, top versions. But not this trip. Yet there are more permutations that you can imagine – in every size and every color,  keychains,  salt and pepper shakers,  photo holders with a clip at the top.  I’m starting to regret that I didn’t keep my own version from the Trashfinder’s Ball back in Beverly a few years ago. Comprising sheet metal, sheer silvery fabric from curtains I bought at the thrift store, paper clips, a lamp shade some silvery wallpaper I’d stripped from our bedroom wall, etc. Oh, did I say that it was a costume, and that I won the contest?!

How ironic that when the Tower was first built  there were many who hated and derided it. And now it’s become such an icon that it’s hard to imagine Paris without it. It floats like a cloud in our consciousness, sometimes obscured but still there.  It always makes me  consider what is beauty.  Something that was so antithetical to the French standard of beauty has now become  representative of the entire culture.

The Pompidous center is a bit like that, just in that it sits in the midst of buildings that are as opposite as one can get from its own design. I like the Pompidou, the looks of it at least, but I doubt  that in some future era it will be seen as representative of the culture. But, who knows.

Enough philosophy for one morning. Who knew I could get philosophical about Eiffel’s tower.
Life here continues to be a mix of wonderful adventures. The trick is to make some plans, but not be committed to them. Have a destination in mind but be open to being taken in a different direction. No goals that you might not reach. There’s a word for it in French, or have I already written about that here? I’ll have to look back and check.

The word is flaneur, basically an aimless wanderer.  I’ve read several definitions, some of which seem condescending, referring it to a gentleman of certain means who has nothing else to do. But others have a more positive connotation.

Yesterday I visited the Gustave Moreau Museum. I didn’t know all that much about his art, but like house museums, where the artist, inventor, etc. has lived. I still remember my visits to the Curie’s lab and to Victor Hugo’s house. 

The ground floor at the Moreau was small rooms crammed with mostly small paintings, most of which I didn’t much like. There were laminated card guides, but they didn’t give much info. I thought I’d be able to skim through the rest of the place. The next floor was supposed to be Moreau’s apartment, but I didn’t see any signs of it, just bathrooms, which looked old enough to have been the artist’s own. You know, the kind with a tank high on the wall and a pull chain.  

Next floor was more impressive,  a huge room with towering ceiling and many large paintings. It was just like those painting of artists' studios of the time.  There were big glass cases in the middle of the room, but they were empty, with a sign saying they’d removed the wax sculptures because of the heat wave. ( it was pretty cool that day, but I wonder for how long ago they’d removed them.)

There were many paintings of all sizes, covering pretty much every bit of the immense space.  These were either better, perhaps later, than the ones on the floor below, or I was just beginning to appreciate his work. I really wish there had been dates so I could determine when in his career they’d been done. For some reason,  many of the ones that attracted my attentions were representations of Salome. I hadn’t known much about her, but read that she was a Jewish seductress. Hmmm.  I’d better read some more.

Around the walls  below the windows were cases covered with curtains. When you pulled them back there were tons of those displays racks you often see in museum shops, displaying  prints and posters. The ones here were all Moreau’s work, sketches and  studies, in blacks and whites and in sepia tones. 
There were hundreds of them, all around the large room, and wooden stools to sit at while you persused them. The frames and the encasing cabinets were wood, maybe a darkened oak? And there were little brass mechanisms at the bottom of each, that you had to turn, like on a window sash, to be able to look thru them. I found the cases as beautiful as the art!

I selected a few to browse through.  Many people were doing the same. I was surprised, in fact, by how crowded the museum was, considering the number of museums in Paris. But apparently Moreau has many fans. I’d grown to like him myself in the hour or so I spent there. What intrigued me most in his work was a kind of lacy design he superimposed in many places. In some paintings it looked like the design of a diaphanous material. (ie on those depictions of Salome!) In other works it looked like tattoos on a person’s limbs. I was very pleased to read, on one of those laminated cards, that it was one of the more notable characteristics of Moreau’s work, and that I had noticed.

There was one additional level, up a spiral staircase, with many more large scale paintings, and from where you could also peer down for a different perspective on some of the works below.
Only on the way back down did I see the rooms of his apartment, which had apparently been closed earlier when I’d arrived. There was a sign about only letting a few people in at a time. But when the doors were closed earlier there’d been no sign indicating that they were there. Who knows? Just glad I got to see them. I'm not sure if they were the actual  rooms, or recreated.  

Before the museum, I’d been hungry, and it didn’t have a café like most of the museums here do. So I walked down the street a block or two, where there were lots of little lunch places, each with their own “formule” meal, these more for workers than tourists. I had my choice of Asian take out, sandwiches on baguettes, pizza,  etc. and browsed through a few before deciding.  I chose someplace with tarts and some other tasty looking things made with millefeuille dough, the kind spanakopita is made from. There were a variety, it was hard to decide. Finally I chose one that I read as having potatoes, cheese, olives, honey and some sprigs of greenery on top. I asked it it was very sweet, being thrown by the mention of honey.  It was delicious, but I’d been mistaken about the potatoes. It was actually apples (pommes) not potatoes (pommes de terre ) I’d been confused in the context where the others were all savory. But I’m glad I misunderstood, because it was not only wonderful but truly more savory than sweet, and at least for me, a very unusual combination.

After the museum, I strolled toward the Trinite stop, because from there I thought I could take the metro back with only one change. But I got diverted, in the best way, by stumbling across a series of the famous "passages." I’ve been to them before, even stayed once in the Hotel Chopin, which is located within one of the arcades, the Jouffry.  The famous old Grevin wax museum is there, too. I’ve never been, was surprised when I stayed there at how expensive the admission was. But now, I’d like to go. It was on the six day Museum Pass, but I ran out of time before I got to it.
The passages were built in the mid to late 1800’s to encourage people to shop and promenade without having to deal with the streets. They have high vaulted ceilings with an iron structure, very  aesthetic. Kind of an early form of the shopping mall. Some are elegant, some kind of run down. The Vivienne has beautiful mosaics. I noticed the Jouffry had had some face lifting since I’d been there. There were more upscale stores and less of the hole in the wall kind. And they’d restored and were still restoring some of the signage. But all in all it was nice, not overly gentrified. I spent a long time in a toy store there that had beautiful miniatures of things like produce carts and pastries.  Very Parisian, but at least some of them were made in Thailand, couldn’t tell about the others.  Ok, I bought a few.
I also stumbled upon a beautiful and old candy store, whose address I noted down, hoping I’ll have the chance to return. Beautiful even among the scores of elegant candy and pastry stores here.

I’ll backtrack a couple days to tell you about last weekend. I’d hoped to visit with Marie, my college friend from here who still lives in France. (she’s half French, half American, one of those hybrids with whom I went to school here, an interesting bunch.)  I only see her every five or ten years, and I believe there was a long period years ago where we weren’t in touch at all. Yet it’s one of those friendships that has lasted over time and space.

She lives in a beautiful town called Loches in the Loire Valley, and came up for a visit for the weekend.  I’d considered going down to visit her, but have been feeling kind of lazy (not about flaneuring around Paris, but about travelling out of town, perhaps because of my fall with my suitcase upon arriving here.)

And we had such a wonderful two days together. I’m not sure we have even spent any time together in Paris since we knew each other here such a long time ago. Marie had asked if I’d be interested in visiting the hamman, the traditional Arab baths located at the Paris Mosquee. (it’s got two syllables in French, emphasis on  the “ay.”   I was indeed interested, have been to the mosque itself before, but never to either the hammam or the café. Marie had been previously with her daughter.
And that is actually where we met, because it isn’t far from the train station, le Gare d’Austerlitz.  We had a sweet mint tea, served in glasses. Glanced in at the hamman and decided to return for the full monty, so to speak, the next day.  The package included a couscous  or tangine meal,  tea and pastry, use of the hamman, entry fee 18 E itself, a gommage (exfoliation) and a ten minute massage. The whole package was 68 euros, not bad for a one and a half hour visit plus a meal.
You wear a bathing suit, removing the top for the gommage  (exfoliation)  and massage, or just your underwear. There are a series of rooms which are various degrees of hot, and a cold pool, hot and cold showers, and marble slab areas where people reclined. It was all very beautifully tiled and exotic. In the room where they did the massages, people reclined afterwards,  drinking  mint tea, their bodies gleaming from the massage oil. Our massages were supposed to be 10 minutes. Marie thought hers was about 15, mine felt like 20 or even a half hour. It was hard to tell, I’d pretty much lost my sense of time.

There was a card on the wall describing the processes, and how to best enjoy them. One part of the description said one could experience the process wearing a bathing suit, or in the clouds. Obviously a mis-translation.  I guess the words for nude and cloud are similar.  I liked the metaphor, though.

The massage is done in one large room with four tables and masseuses.  Around the sides are banks of  heated marble areas on which to relax before or after your massage. (or both.)  The masseuses are very matter of fact, chat with each other as they do the massage. It was somewhat like the Gellert baths I went to in Budapest, which was equally beautiful and exotic in the environment. There there were actual coed swimming pools with a beautiful tiled deco look, as well as hot pools and cooler ones that were segregated by gender.

The massages there were done in one very laong room with a line up of tables, maybe a dozen, and the environment was almost medical, not so appealing.  And the masseuses there were rough!
Ah, if I could just combine the pools of the Budapest baths with the massages and marble reclining areas and meal of the Paris hamman.

We’d had our tagines before the hammam, because the restaurant closes at 3, then serves just tea and pastry the rest of the day. We weren’t sure we’d have time to do the hamman first. I had lamb with eggplant, it was delicious, and more than I could eat. They gave us take away bags for the rest and the pastry, which we got to choose from an enormous tray and assortment. We later gave our leftovers to two Muslim women we met on the street. They were a bit hesitant to take the food, until we assured them  that it had come from the Mosquee restaurant and was halal.

There’s more, particularly Paris Plage, and the Jardins Plantee,  from my sojourn with Maria. But I’d better wait to recount it if I want to have any time to do anything beside write today.
Today’s tentatively plan – to head for Belleville, home of edgy art street art and squats,  and a cultural mix of ethnicities, and the Buttes Chaumont, a park to which I’ve been before. It’s also where Edith Piaf’s apt is, I’ve been there too, but not inside. But who knows what may appeal to or divert me along the way.

1 comment:

past focus said...

thank you for that respiteful weekend which has kept me going in top gear are you surviving the vigourous gommage session ? Hope you are all better now ! xox