Paris Day 1: Arts and Music

Bonne année! I was in Paris from December 30 to January 3 and was reminded why it is my favorite city in the world. Someday I would like to call it my home. I arrived early on December 30 after taking the 6:30 am TGV from Valence. Becca, another assistant in Valence, had found us an apartment to rent for the week near the Place de la Bastille. It was a cluttered place and heavy on the Coca-Cola memorabilia, but it was in a great location and much cheaper than staying in even the creepiest Paris hostel. I think on one night we had 11 people sleeping in its three rooms. Sean, an assistant in Crest, Becca, and I tried to go to Versailles the day I arrived, but when we got to the RER station, the ticket seller told us that the Palace was closed due to ice. Since we were at the Gare d’Austerlitz, Becca called one of her friends who lives nearby and is studying acting to meet her for lunch.

On our way, we happened to walk past an art installation by Parisian graffiti artists. It was in a storefront window right outside the Gare d’Austerlitz and the artists had covered the walls with cardboard and added paintings, drawings, stenciling, spray paint bottles, and tags. One guy was there finishing the installation and invited us to contribute to part of the exhibit. Their goal is to have a whole mural created by visitors around the theme of “Les Voyages” (Traveling). I love art installations that engage visitors instead of just inviting them to gaze on the work of “masters.” Only two people had been there before us, but we left our email addresses to see the final result. Becca drew a fantastic banana boat being rowed by a French poodle containing a robot and a dinosaur.

I hope that my “traveling man” drawing is an integral part of the final piece. I believe this is my first drawing to be displayed in a gallery and will undoubtedly be my last. Hopefully more talented artists stop by the gallery.

We then walked through the Jardin des Plantes, where most everything was dead, but the trees were still orderly along the avenues and the grass was somehow green. How does the grass stay green so long in France? I never see sprinklers. Maybe they swap it all out sometimes like they do with the flower gardens at the University of Oklahoma.

Right outside of the Jardin des Plantes, we saw the Fontaine Cuvier, named for the French zoologist Georges Cuvier and decorated with various beasts. I’d read a lot about him and his work with comparative anatomy earlier this year when I was on a small natural history museum research kick. After a short walk from the Jardin des Plantes we met up with Becca’s friend and had a delicious lunch at a crêperie.

When we left Becca’s friend it started to snow. It was one of those moments that was so beautiful it made me want to cry, with the thick flakes falling down around me in Paris. We walked around until the snow stopped and it was only cold, so we went inside the Panthéon.

The Panthéon was originally built as a church, but is now a monument to French achievement and contains the graves of many of France’s most famous citizens, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean Moulin, and Marie Curie. People get “panthéonized” after their death and moved here as a posthumous honor. The Panthéon was also where Léon Foucault first demonstrated his pendulum, visually showing the rotation of the earth.

That evening we met up with Kirsty, an assistant from New Zealand working in Montélimar, and went to a Gregorian Chant concert at Notre-Dame. This was quite mesmerizing for the first hour, but Gregorian Chants are best listened to in moderation and I was already fading at the hour and a half mark and barely made it to the finale at two hours. They did try to liven things up with a drum, tambourine, and reed instrument procession, but it still sounded like a dirge. However, it was very cool to hear the chanting in Notre-Dame and I spent some of the concert thinking about all the people who must have listened to and played music there over the years, reverberating notes through the stones. I thought about Victor Hugo and how the building was in disrepair when he first imagined his novel. It’s hard to visualize the cathedral not packed with tourists, but in the quiet of the concert I could almost see it without the flash photography and crowds.

I’ll post about the rest of Paris soon!

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