Monday, February 23, 2009
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” wrote Proust. New eyes have to be acquired, I would add. To see something you have seen before and to see it with a new perspective is the reward. I have had to work on this in Paris. Familiarity does not breed contempt, it fosters and furthers a deeper sense of what the place is all about. This is not philosophical; not profound. With my decision to come here came an obligation to learn by seeing and sensing and tasting; else I may as well do Paris on the Travel Channel. Though not a new landscape, I see Paris with a sharper vision, sharper today than when I came several weeks ago. I know more about the city, I appreciate it more, I am quite a bit more comfortable being here. Good for me. Good for Paris. The Louvre is one of the few museums around that is open on Monday and so I stopped by in the late morning, departed for lunch, returned for a while, departed again. Not everything is serious here. I took a picture of a very funny oil by a 19th century French painter by the name of Francois Biard which made me laugh out loud. Leaving for lunch and walking along the Rue de Rivoli I can upon an even goofier image—could that be McDonalds there in the shadow of the palace?!?I must say that lunch at Cafe 221 in the Hotel St-Honore won the day for me. Chicken breast with morels. Haut Medoc. Very relaxed and stylish, and affordable. Had a book along and read it at leisure. Resisted the Moet but it planted a tiny seed. I will have some of it in the next day or so. At the museum I traipsed along on the lower floor and had a look at the foundations of the palace built several centuries ago. Then I wandered about in ancient Egypt with Rameses II, leapt forward several millennia and ended up in the Apollo Room of The Sun King. Nourishing, the Louvre. All of this stuff can be overwhelming if you don’t get the perspective right. The voyage of discovery. New eyes. Here is what I believe: Don’t take any of this too seriously. Find a middle ground. Leave it to the hordes to storm through with guides and site maps; move along past the intellects who muse. Find what appeals to you and savor it. Then go have a beer somewhere. Or have an eclair. In Paris, you cannot see it all, and you probably cannot altogether grasp much of what you do see. Sorting out the dynasts, tyrants, martyrs, good guys and bad actors can take more time than you may have or more energy that you want to commit. All those Louies. Joan and Marie. Napoleon I, Napoleon III (what happened to II?). The Revolution, Empire, Commune, Republic. This isn’t tidy like the 13 colonies, and the trail from Washington to Obama. If memorizing French history is not your cup of tea, don’t drink it. And don’t feel inadequate for passing it by. One thing is for sure. You will talk with friends who, too, know Paris. They will have seen and been impressed by something you did not see. And they will ask if you saw it and if you, too, were impressed. “No, I must have stopped in the room or on the block just before I reached that.” In conversation lately I have asked various Parisians about one thing or another which had caught my eye and almost without fail none of them had a clue what I was talking about. “No, I’ve not seen that.” Doesn’t matter. The restaurant you liked, the painting you admired, the monument that moved you . . . “Sorry, I missed that one.” Here, every day is Day One. What you don’t see today will still be around tomorrow, and next year. Reason to make a list. Reason to come again.