Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Emerging from the Metro in the southern part of Paris is like arriving in a different city altogether. Here they build ’em tall! Several glass buildings, the antitheses of what is to be found in all other parts of town I have visited, rise high on both sides of Avenue du Maine. This is Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement, and it is home to probably the most controversial building in Paris, Tour Montparnasse. A great big glass and steel structure rising 59 stories, it is easily the tallest in town, the one you see from just about any place you happen to be. I happened to be just beneath it, looking for two very different places centered around Henri Cartier-Bresson, the famous photojournalist. I did not exactly see what I thought I would, but did enjoy a couple of very good and very creative exhibitions. What I hoped to see were rooms full of photographs by the master. In the narrow three-story building which houses the HCB exhibit space there are 12 pictures taken by him, plus one taken of him. Cartier-Bresson was the man monitoring the goings-on in India in 1948 when Gandhi was assassinated and his coverage of that entire event dramatically furthered his already considerable reputation. But in his little museum, not a picture. Not a word. What was here were two floors of poignant pictures taken in 2007-08 in third-world Africa. The photographer is Guy Tillim and I am going to underscore his name. He is young, takes brilliant pictures, is already acclaimed. This exhibition is called Along Avenue Patrice Lumumba, for the man who was elected as first president of the Congo after its independence from Belgium in 1960. His fiery inaugural speech so enraged a lot of white Westerners that the Belgians had him assassinated about a year later. Apparently just about every African city has a Patrice Lumumba Avenue (ala MLK in the US) and the images of Tillim speak movingly to the unfulfilled dream of this important, now legendary African figure. Gripping, incisive stuff. Nearby is the Cartier Foundation, another glass edifice (not pictured), but this one done with considerable taste by the Parisian favorite Jean Nouvel. It is a fabulous space devoted mostly to installation art, a contemporary form which continues to grow on me. Another moving experience. I was directed to a theatre-type room so black that I literally had someone take my hand and lead me to an empty space on the floor where I took a seat. A giant screen was showing interviews giving a voice to natives from societies around the world lamenting the deterioration of their precious and personal habitat, from the Amazon Basin to Ethiopia. In native tongue, with translation in French on the main screen and in English (thank goodness) on a small one. Beautiful work and worth every minute of time I spent here. I walked home, a considerable distance. Passed through the Luxembourg Gardens and the majestic palace, and passed the Odeon Hotel where I spent several nights about 25 years ago. What a surprise to come upon it this afternoon. Tonight I reciprocated to Martine Landy, the lady who several weeks ago extended an invitation to celebrate her birthday, Indian style. Gosh, that seems such a long time ago. We met at a lovely restaurant on the Place des Vosages, La Guirlande de Julie, and had the very best time possible. Martine was a key figure in the Parisian fragrance industry for many years and still plays a role. She also is involved in the sale and distribution of high-end fabrics from India, travels there with some frequency and knows and admires many Indians. Thus the theme of her party a few weeks back. The restaurant is (or was) owned by the owner of the august Tour d’Argent, and turns out nice food presented in an ambiance far removed from the stratosphere occupied by d’Argent. It has been the chance to have second visits with so many new friends I have met in Paris that has been so special for me. Funny how rewarding the conversation becomes when it takes place around nice servings of seared fois gras, coq au vin, blanquette de veau and accompanied by a good bottle of Saint Emilion. High marks for the day, the evening and especially the company.