Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Paris: Why the Winter? Why two months? Those are frequent questions which are posed as I gain acquaintances here. In reverse order: Why two months? Earlier trips to Europe have always seemed to end too quickly. “Why am I going home after 12 days, having planned for months to get here and having flown across the ocean to be here?” Why not stay longer? Maybe three weeks, maybe longer. As I searched the Internet for potentiaI places to stay, I found that there was some economy in length. A week costs less than a day, a month less than a week, two months less than six weeks. Per diem of course. And with two months, nothing really is on a fast track. If I don’t get around to it today, then maybe tomorrow; maybe next week. Maybe not at all. So what? Getting to know people is a genuine reward, and that is something that takes time. “Hello, I am a friend of a friend and I have one night to have dinner with you,” produces and entirely different ambience than, “What a nice night. Why don’t we have lunch next week? And maybe a concert that I see will be in town early next month.” Why the Winter? First it is easier for me to get away early in the year. Second, and this is a huge reason to consider, there are not very many tourists. So restaurants are easy; concert tickets are easier; lines are shorter for every museum or any other destination. The weather? Well, even excepting the awful ice storm that brought Lexington to a standstill this month, it is just not as cold and oppressive when the venue is as exotic as a foreign capital. I love cities in the Winter. Chicago. New York. I don’t think twice. Theatre is at its best and usually prices are lower than in high season. Why Paris? Because there is a larger canvas here than most cities in Europe, London and Berlin notably excepted. The pound is unfriendly in London, and Berlin, well I love Berlin, but I was just there last year. Paris had fabulous museums, plenty of good music, surely more restaurants per square meter than any place on earth, and it is a beautiful city. From Paris, the rails can move you quickly to so many cities and countries and sea shores and small villages and . . .So I chose Paris.
Today it was raining a bit when I went out for an early walk. But it does not rain intensely. Some people carry umbrellas, some don’t. It continued raining after I returned, so an aimless stroll seemed, well, aimless and pointless. Instead I went to the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, recommended by several Parisians and always favorably mentioned in guidebooks. And to make my point about the crowds, there was no wait to get in. The stanchions suggested that on busy days that would not be the case. The museum is remindful of the Frick on Fifth Avenue in New York (minus those three Vermeers) in that, like the Frick, it is the home of a wealthy patron of the arts of an earlier era. Paintings and furniture get equal billing, with most everything displayed as it was when M. Edouard Andre and his wife Nelie Jacquemart used to have friends come by to see their newest acquisitions of 18th century art. How nice to have the luxury of selecting a Rembrandt here, a Ucello or Mantegna there as they travelled about on their frequent continental buying sprees. I know, those three artists are not 18th century, but most of what is here is—painters like Fragonard and his contemporaries. One of the very best touches is that the free audio guide encourages you to stop in the music room and imagine what a party might have been like in those days. No commentary, just beautiful music is heard. And what you hear is a capriccio and rondo by Camille Saint-Saens which is just mesmerizing. I returned to this room twice just to hear the music play. And I now admit that as I was leaving I asked a young woman attendant about the music. “You mean the music in here?”, pointing to the audioguide. “Oui.”. She told me what it was and said almost no one ever asks that. So she was pleased, both with my question and with her ready answer.
The Jacquemart-Andre is in the 8th arrondissement, located on the Boulevard Haussmann, the extraordinarily expansive avenue named for man who gave Paris its distinction by filling it with long, wide streets that seem to have specific destinations. Baron Haussmann was Napoleon III’s urban planner during the time of the Second Empire and the baron gets most all of the credit (or blame by some) for providing a unifying look around town with his cityscape of broad avenues interrupted by circular spokes from which six or seven often streets spill out.
One additional note: Many times the Metro will be enhanced by one or more musicians singing or strumming or blowing or squeezing, whatever their talent may be. And it is great! Occasionally there will be someone on the trains, but usually in the passages. Of course, the music carries all over the place and sometimes you can hear it just as you enter. Today, as I was changing trains, the arresting melody of the Ava Maria was enough to stop me in my tracks. Not to worry about catching the train. There will be another. I had just a few coins of loose change and was pleased to drop them in the cup of the horn player as I walked slowly by. Wish I had had a recorder.

1 comment:

  1. "So what?" Agreed. It's your observations and attitude (from the musee to the metro) and insightful perspective that makes your trip so enjoyable for me. Why ask why?