I’m just home from a true Cinderella week in Paris. I love that metaphor because I’m literally cleaning the ashes out of the woodstove one day and sitting under 15 chandeliers in Paris having tea, the next. My son Gordon had an exhibition which opened in Paris last week and I made the rash decision to take a week away from my students and be there. Turns out it was a completely sound and life-expanding decision. Everything conspired to make it magical and nourishing.
There was time to joke around with my son, and share the discoveries that are around every corner in such an amazing city. There were many kind and considerate people to meet and be touched by. And there was Paris. It was hazy, and moody with clouds a lot of the time. When the sun shone it had the long shadowed slant of fall. There were lacquered doors and polished brasses. There were pinks and golds against shining blacks, and the lovely flavors of herbs and cheeses. It was artful and alive.
Using the Metro is fantastic for looking at people, and studying a population–the handbag of the working woman, the young mother’s scarf, the cut of the career man’s jacket, the immigrant family’s jewelry, the shopping bags carried by the old gentleman, the curious, laughing face of the little one in the stroller. One Metro station which I had the good fortune to land in twice had a seven piece gypsy band performing with edgy passion. If I concentrate I can still hear it, and its powerful echoes.
We discovered a little restaurant in the neighborhood of our b&b that was remarkable. We appeared there one night without a reservation and the proprietor found us a corner. It was apparently a much touted place because another American couple told us they had traveled from the opposite side of Paris to dine there. The proprietor took a pity on us when my fairly competent restaurant French failed us– the menu was that exotic. He came to our aid by extravagantly pantomiming the contents of all the dishes for us– which ranged from veal brain to skate. We quickly fell under Giles’ spell and when we left we were all kissed goodbye. Gordon went back again to invite him to the exhibition, and then spent his last night in Paris dining with Giles again. We may have to go back to Paris just to see Giles whose dark eyes, booming voice and theatrical love of his business made him totally irresistible.
So, yes, we ate. But we also went to museums. I think I counted seven that I went to, as well as Versailles. It was at a strange juncture in my career as an artist, and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it was planned this way by the spirit guardians of my work. I had just emptied myself of my work and set forth to discover my future when I found myself in Paris with a museum pass. Today, I came across a wonderful summation in Traveler magazine, in an article by Andre Aciman: “Once again, through an unforeseen ascent of a hill, I’ve stumbled upon something perhaps far better than what I came looking for. I find myself suspecting that the humbling, intruisive hand of Providence is arranging events which couldn’t seem more random. I like the idea of a design behind my desulatory wanderings around Bordighera. I like thinking that perhaps this is how we should always travel, without foresight or answers, adventitiously, with faith as our compass.”
What did I find? Exquisite and mythical relationships between human figures in the Musee Rodin; sculptures from New Guinea that towered over me and overwhelmed me with their mysticism and power; a modest piece by Eva Hesse that made me think seriously about tapping into my desire to make sculptures. And some huge panels painted by Vuillard, of domestic scenes, that held me in their grip by virtue of their scale and their charming oddness–more eccentric than I’v e come to expect from him. Brancusi’s recreated studio made me hungry to get back to my tools. Gauguin’s bas reliefs stopped me in my tracks. Oddly, much of what was most compelling to me was three dimensional. I will watch with interest to see what spins itself from my hands and mind after that intense week of schooling. I hope it bears an echo of moody, rich, and ordered Paris.