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Friday, July 31, 2015

Saxaphones, old haunts, macarons, another museum, and outsider Henry Barger.

….I did, in fact, go down to the Jardins to the bandstand, following the sound of music. I’m glad I did. I’d jotted  down the schedule  all the July bandstand concerts, but  had not made it to any of them. I remember reading and discounting this one, because it was a band from England, and I wanted French music.

This, it turned out, was a band of teen age saxaphonists, a couple dozen of them. They perform in Paris the same week every year.  The oldest is 19, the youngest, eleven. I know because the band leader told us, in decent French.

They played everything from All of Me to The Barber of Seville to When I’m 64! Not only was their music great, but they were very coordinated, almost choreographed, moving around and off and on the bandstand as they played.  . While they were playing I had this crazy idea that if they’d be in town a couple more days I’d take Loring  to hear them and have them play When I’m 64!  But, as I found out, they are heading home today, leaving directly from here to Calais.
Afterwards, I went up and told as many of them as I could how great they were. Lots of other people were doing the same. One woman told me she came every year.

I’ve never spent much time in the Jardins de Luxembourg before this trip. I do remember sitting  and listening to some music there some years ago, while waiting to leave Paris for a train or plane. That makes sense as the Luxembourg  train  stop  to the airport is right here.  It was probably at this very spot.

After the performance, I continued on through the gardens, and once again into the Orangerie, where they have temporary shows and where I’d seen the engravings when I first got here. Now there’s a different show,  three different artists. Lots of people were strolling through, and so did I. It’s so quintessentially Parisian, a performance in the park followed by an art show.  Next on the agenda, I told myself, a baguette sandwich, or a pastry. And so on I strolled out of the park, looking for the next patisserie. It didn’t take long. I ordered a smoked salmon and cheese sandwich, and a pastry called a mystere.  How can you not order something called that, especially when the outside is chocolate covered by chocolate sprinkles. At the next little park I stopped and ate them. The mystere is meringue inside. I don’t especially like meringue, but enjoyed it nevertheless.

As it’s getting toward the end of my sojourn, yesterday I bought some macarons in a bakery in the Marais. There’s a pattisserie that sells them, and displays them beautifully in the window, just a couple of doors down from me. But I haven’t had the urge when I’ve been heading out, since I’ve usually just had breakfast. And when I’m heading home, they are usually already closed.

 Macarons, to be clear, are not macaroons, although people seem often to mistake them for one another.  I’ve never had any until now, but people wax eloquent about them, debating which company makes the best ones. Like with steak tartare, I decided it was time I tried them. They are little cookie sandwiches with a cream filling, and they come in many flavors.  I don’t remember them from when I’ve been here before.  Perhaps I’ve just missed them. Or maybe they’ve only become fashionable in recent years. I find it hard to believe  I could have missed the beautiful displays of them in all the bakery windows all these years.

I ordered three, blackberry, pistachio, and chocolate. They are hard to describe, because they are not like anything else I’ve ever had. Very fluffy, with a melt in your mouth qualityQuite unlike the dense quality of a macaroon.  Glad I tried them, but in the future I’d opt for a fruit tart anytime. Or a macaroon, for that matter.  In the shop, I noticed that that one variety, a bluish color, was labeled blueberry in English, but was actually blackberry. I told the woman and she seemed appreciative and said she’d change it.

Today after the concert, or even before I’d heard the music, my intended destination was another modern art museum, at the Palais de Tokyo. I remember this building, just across the river from the Eiffel Tower, from when I lived here. Then, it was a stunning modernistic building, which housed the Cinamateque, which is no longer  there. Now, the grand entry is kind of decayed, and is occupied mostly by dozens of skateboarders. In fact, I thought it wasn’t the museum entry at all, and continued around the corner before coming back and weaving my way through the boarders.

The museum was wonderful, an unexpected find with lots of known artists, a couple of Bonnard nudes that it WAS okay to photograph, unlike at the previous exhibit. I assume that there, where the works were borrowed from many museums, it depended on the rights and rules of the individual museums they came from.

There were Picassos and Duboffets and Chiricos and many more, and, it was free! Good place to know about that I think is off the tourist path.If you are going to the Champs Elysees (although I don't see what the attraction is, myself) it's an easy walk. And it's right across the river from the Eiffel Tower and gives you a great view of it.

I thought the museum was open until 10 pm, because I’d seen a sign. But that was apparently only for the temporary exhibit, because at about ten of six a guard began shooing me curtly out. I was watching a film at the time, in English, about some kind of bizarre American group called Furries who dress up in animal costumes.  Before I left I just wanted to see the info about the film so I could look it up. The woman was rude and wouldn’t let me. A young couple interceded and tried to help, but couldn’t find the listing either. I was upset at how she had treated me. The other guards were very pleasant and soothing and told me to write down my concerns and question in their log.  I did, and have mixed feelings about it. Part of me doesn’t want to get her in trouble. But she had multiple opportunities to change her tune once she understood what I was trying to find out, and only got nastier.

I’ve never thought that Parisians deserve the reputation they seem to have for being rude. But this one sure fit the bill.

My expedition here to the museum was like many others. Today I’d sworn to myself to not walk the whole way, because it was too long and I’d be too tired when I got here. I didn’t  listen to myself though. Part of it was just that there’s no very direct way to get here from there. Which is also going to be an issue on the way back, as I finish writing and head out of here.  But I’ll find a way to get at least partway, because it is a pretty long walk.

The other part of my not listening to my own advice is that once I start walking there’s just too much interesting stuff, the architecture, the shops, the people. Plus today I was going through some of my old stomping grounds. I stopped off at the American Church, which housed the American College when I was a student here all those years ago. I wandered in, went down to the basement that now has preschool classes in what were probably our classrooms. I tried to locate the “cave” which  was a basement room, that rumor had it housed the bodies of Americans waiting to be shipped home during WWII. I thoroughly believe that. When the college was there, it was our equivalent of a student center, a very small one. Kind of weird when you think about it. But today, I couldn’t find it. It may not be there any more.  I did come across I gym that I didn’t remember. It didn’t look very new. But then, this was all almost 50 years ago. Ye gads. I think of that phrase a lot when I think of how long ago in my life some things were.

I walked along Rue St. Dominique, where I once lived in a maid’s room up on the 7th floor, but didn’t remember the number of the building. Who knows if the building is even there. There are a number of modern buildings interspersed with the classic ones, and embassies and such.
 I also walked once again along Rue du Bac, where I lived the second year with a couple of roommates. That building number, #77, I remember well, and have been by numerous times in previous visits Once the door was open, and Loring and I walked in. I remember once late night when I lived there trying to open a coconut by hurling it down to the courtyard from the  7th story window.

But what I didn’t notice until today was that Whistler once lived across the street. I know I came across a plaque a couple of weeks ago saying that Whistler lived there, and I don’t think it was on the Rue du Bac. Well, he probably lived in more than one place. But how could I have missed a plaque across the street from where I once lived for a year? I guess I wasn’t into reading plaques then.

I keep meaning to write about some other, more recent plaques that weren’t here when I lived here. I think I did write about them, or at least one of them, a few years ago on another trip. On that trip, I stumbled across an exhibit, at the Hotel de Ville I think, about Jews and deportations during the war. I was taken by all the photos, most of which were taken very near where I was then, at the exhibit. I  had written  down some of the addresses then, to try to track them down.

And I did find at least one of them. It was  a school where a number of children were arrested and deported, never to return. It was still a school,  a preschool now, and parents were just picking up their kids. I wandered into the courtyard, feeling spooked and wondering what if any awareness the families had about what had happened there. A teacher stopped me, but when I told her why I was there, she let me look around.

Now, and on a couple of previous trips since I saw the exhibit, I notice those black marble plaques everywhere, some in the Marais, the former Jewish area, but in other parts of the city as well. It’s part of a project begun in 1997 to honor the memory of the murdered children. There must be hundreds of those plaques in different parts of the city, and thousands of lost children that they commemorate. Not to mention all of their families who were no doubt hauled away too.
There are other plaques too, mentioning where soldiers who died in the war had lived, and in some cases, where they had died.
Well, now to change gears, and to depart from the museum and the Palais de Tokyo cafe, after I try to plot my way back home.

I in fact did not head home after writing the above. Most things don’t go as planned. I went briefly into the museum bookstore to look at postcards, although with the many photos I’ve taken that isn’t exactly  necessary.  An employee came over and asked if I was the person who’d written in the museum log, and I said that I was. He said I should add the date. I’m not sure why,  but it wasn’t a problem. The woman at the check counter said hello. She’d been very nice earlier. I told her I wasn’t tired anymore, after a rest in the outdoor café, and asked how much the entry fee was for the temporary exhibit. She’d wanted me to go in before, telling me how wonderful it was. She was trying to cheer me up after my encounter.She’d also said to me, in an aside,that the rude guard was a “hard” person.

So now, she led me in, past the ticket seller and the ticket taker,without having to pay,  and also told me I could hold on to my pack. (so much for security.) And I went into the Henry Darger exhibit, an artist with whom I was entirely unfamiliar. I think it was one of the most amazing art experiences I have ever had. That in a city renowned for its art, and after a month of intensive museum going.   And if It weren’t for the encounter with the unfriendly guard, and hence the very friendly check person,   I never would have seen it.

To call Darger an outsider artist would be an understatement.  He lived an entirely outsider life, and created an alternate universe in his art. He had a lonely childhood, lived in an institution for “feeble-minded children” for some years,

He lived a cloistered life, perhaps had Asberger’s and/or Tourette’s, lived in a one room apartment in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century. His works were only discovered, by his landlord, under his bed,  after Darger had moved out, and shortly before he died. The landlord, Nathan Lerner, himself a photographer, protected and promoted Darger’s work. Now, his widow holds the estates of both her husband and Darger. The room in which he lived has been preserved, and I saw a book that was entirely about the room.

I’d looked at some of the photographer’s work at the same museum earlier in the day, but only realized the connection when I saw the name of the photographer’s wife.

I will try to briefly describe Darger’s work. I feel as though it’s beyond description.  He also wrote a 15000 page book, for which the artwork serves as illustration.

The illustrations are drawn on both sides of the paper, and are displayed upright under glass so that the viewer can see both sides. Partly because of the display, they have a luminescent quality, and at places you can see the illustration on the other side.  From a distance, they have a bucolic, Kate Greenway 1030’s kind of children’s book look. But as you come closer, you see that they are peculiar, grotesque,  and violent. And they become more violent and apocalyptic  as the years proceed into the pre WWII years. Darger has created an alternate universe, with six heroes called the Vivian girls. He uses tracery in much of his work, and the figures have a cartoonish quality, partly because he has traced  parts of the images from comics and other images.  After the war, in the 50’s, his work reassumes its former, only partly violent images.

That’s about as well as I can describe his work, which Darger worked on for about 30 years.   Only  small parts of the text are shown, to accompany the images. Although Darger had intended the art to accomopany the book.

 I looked at the exhibit catalog, because there was so much in each work that it was difficult to absorb, and there were a couple of other books in the bookstore. I didn’t think any of them did the work justice, although there was one, in English, that came close. I was tempted to buy it, but it was 58 euros, and heavy. So I’ll look on Amazon.

Today is my last day before Loring  arrives. What shall I do? I have plenty of ideas, and more, as well, for the three days he will be here. In both regards,  will just have to wait and see, where the day, and days, take me, and us.

1 comment:

past focus said...

I wish i had been with you on this trip to Darger's universe...sounds astounding !