A Very French Affair.

A Very French Affair.

It’s now officially ‘that time of year,’ just a week away from the first day of winter and each day as I walk home in the late afternoon, I look up and marvel at the endless, twinkling lights that have been draped from building to building, some in the shape of huge snowflakes, others in more simplistic yet beautiful festive formations.

Christmas is unquestionably upon us. Each afternoon delivers a little treat in the form of a post lunch window of sunlight, before casting evening shadows at approximately 4.30pm.
The chestnut roasters on street corners are busy at this time of year. I always look on with slight amusement as tourists haggle for a better price during the summer months and now, the city is reasonably quiet and the roasters wrap a handful of chestnuts into newspaper with a new found purpose. The buttery scents from the boulangeries, married with the smell of roasting chestnuts, complete with twinkling lights under a freezing night sky, is enough to send me into a complete episode of warm fuzzies.
The collars of winter coats are adjusted under the chins Parisians as they emerge from the metro and the mood is happy and wintery and I can’t stop humming ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’.

One thing that I’m becoming increasingly used to, is the delayed delivery of ‘l’addition’ to my table at the end of a meal or a simple glass of wine or cup of coffee.

It is not that the waiters are rude, or complacent, more that they encourage loitering in this city; there is no hurry to move on and the table (once occupied) is, quite literally, yours for as long as you may wish to occupy it. As a person who hails from a city where café tables are filled with screaming children and immense congregations of adults who ignore the occupants of high chairs as they throw fists of smashed avocado in any direction they wish while queues of people wrap their way out the door of cafés, resulting in the bill being delivered with a swiftness reserved for an eviction of squatters in a decrepit house, it has taken me quite a while to get used to the fact that it’s quite ok to occupy a seat in Parisian cafés for hours if one may wish to do so.
The absence of high chairs and congregations of entire mothers groups and the sounds of screaming children is a welcome bonus, and without sounding like a horrible old woman (I know, I do), I thoroughly enjoy the civilised behaviours dans la terrasse in this city.

Last week I sat outside of a café not far from the Sorbonne, catching the last of the afternoon sun while completing several rounds of my favourite mental exercise – people watching.

This habit is endless and cliched and oh-so-satisfying and on this particular occasion my attention was drawn to the couple on the table in front of me. The mood was loving and kind as they sipped their wine looking longingly into each other’s eyes. I penned a novel in my mind as I observed their nuanced behaviours, with the final chapter written as he stood up and kissed her goodbye- it was long and passionate. He rubbed her back before adjusting the scarf wrapped through her hair and I tapped my foot on the concrete before dropping my eyes to an invisible text book on my table in a desperate attempt not to be caught writing their love story in my mind.

And just like that, they were gone. The woman disappeared down the stairs and into the metro station, he wandered down the street, his shoulders held high and his demeanour proud.
As I took the final sip from my glass my eyes fell back to the scarf wearing woman’s seat where her phone sat, a lonely reminder of their romantic rendez-vous.

My worst nightmare is leaving my phone on the back seat of a taxi, or in the pocket of an aeroplane seat or in the cinema- anywhere for that matter. I pat myself down all too frequently chanting ‘phone, purse, keys’ before scrambling through my handbag in haste as if the former three items might have grown wings and learnt to fly in the time it has taken me to finish my foie gras.

When I noticed ‘phone alone’ sitting on the seat right before my eyes, my initial thought was to simply grab it and telephone the last dialled number on the call list. But something told me this wasn’t a good idea- my imagined blockbuster created in my mind only moments earlier, had concluded that this hadn’t been any normal meeting between a couple who’d sworn to love each other ‘until death do us part’.
Rather, it was a secret lunchtime tête à tête between two people who had seperate houses in the country, a handful of children born to separate spouses (who, maybe they had sworn to love until death did they part), and it was not in my interests to get involved.

The phone was unlocked, meaning I could surely just head straight to the first message and respond with ‘this phone is at Cafe Mont, Boulevard Montparnasse 14 eme’ and whoever received it could simply call the owner of the phone in their office and that would be that.
In the message at the top of the list ‘Luc’ wrote, ‘Tonight, don’t forget we have dinner with the neighbours, can you please organise a gift’.

Right! Easy!

I concluded that Luc must be the (I imagined), handsome 60’s heartthrob Alain Delon-esque French husband of the beautiful scarf wearing woman. Oh, but hang on, upon checking the time that he sent the message, I noticed that it was sent only half an hour beforehand, when she was sitting at the table in front of me, quite clearly not with him. Sleuth shoes on my huge feet, I decided against texting Luc. His wife was most definitely having an affair.
Further down the list another man named Pierre wrote apologetically to ‘his darling’ advising that he couldn’t have dinner on Thursday night as he had to spend time with his family ‘this is life’ he explained, before adding ‘instead, meet me for lunch on Tuesday, 12.30 at Cafe Mont’.

Bingo! Fumbling through the keyboard (and my mind) I responded to Pierre with a very basic, present tense message which looked a bit like this- ‘you were here, now you are not. Your friend had a phone, now she does not. I have her phone, it is now with the maître d’ at Cafe Mont, please can you tell the owner of the phone, thank you very much’.

My message felt austere and not at all sincere but it was also 100% reflective of my endless struggle with speaking French. I often feel a little bit disappointed when I’m unable to dance through the language and hamstrung without nuances and I so miss wrapping poetic overemphasised adverbs throughout each sentence. Rather, I speak as though I’m about five years old, or just plain bored. Neither could be further from the truth.

Feeling satisfied that Luc’s wife and Pierre’s mistress, would get her phone back without anyone getting into too much trouble, I paid the bill and explained to the waiter that I’d sent a message to the friend of the proprietress of the phone. He gave me a knowing look and a smile, before reassuring me that he’d keep the phone at the cafe until they came to retrieve it.

Walking home I realised that the mystery would remain unsolved in my mind – I had no way of ever finding out if the owner of the telephone had in fact retrieved it, and I swallowed a lump in my throat as I passed by the church Saint Sulpice, hoping that I hadn’t made a blunder in my detective work.

Poring over textbooks later that night, I decided that I had to do somthing about my unintentionally austere delivery of phrases in this language. Grabbing a pen and a pretty pink card, I wrote to Nadine, the beautiful woman who lives upstairs and has done for over 55 years. ‘Dear Nadine, please come for a cup of tea on Saturday, I would very much like to speak with you’. Once I’d brushed my teeth and was ready for bed, I slipped out the door and left the note on her staircase.

Nadine speaks French beautifully and as a retired school teacher, she is slow in her delivery and always so kind to me. When I returned home the following night, heaving my basket laden with school books along with half of the supermarket, I fumbled for my keys and burst the door open before quickly closing it behind me, trapping the cold air outside in the hallway. A note on stationary decorated with two smiling cherubs (their eyes looking only the slightest bit insane), fell to the floor and it read ‘Yes, I will come on Saturday. My son visits each Saturday so he will be with me as well. I will see you then’.

Jérôme and Nadine arrived on Saturday morning with a paper bag filled with fresh croissants, ‘it’s normal’ she assured me as I thanked her with an enthusiasm more appropriate for a gift of a cheque valued at say, a million euros.

The following hour was spent chatting about all things French and with tales of our lives here in Paris. They told me about every prior tenant of this apartment, dating back to the 1960s when Nadine and her husband first came to live here with Jérôme as a child. I explained that I had read an article in the newspaper the day before which stated that 25% of apartments in Paris are unoccupied, with property prices making it almost unaffordable to purchase real estate in the current climate. Each time I stopped to draw breath in an effort to reduce the rose in each cheek caused by an unnecessary feeling of frustration as I delivered sentences peppered with a thousand mistakes, they urged me to keep going. ‘You are reading the newspaper and you’re speaking French, you must not stop,’ they both smiled, ‘we can understand everything you say’. I muttered something about being like a child and thanked them for their encouragement and kindness. They stood up to go about their day, leaving me with a kiss on each cheek ‘à bientôt’ Nadine said, at least three times.

I will see her soon, because it is moments like these that bring me one step closer to feeling less awkward and austere, rather, genuinely sure that I will one day be able to solve a mystery in French, eat a croissant in French, dance around adverbs and write an essay in French with the same confidence I do in this language.

That day will be a very French affair.

Pictured: A typical Parisienne vendeuse.

Inspiration and observations.

Inspiration and observations.

Learning ceramic techniques was like learning life… I felt a true happiness finding a link between scientific knowledge, imagination and manual skills. I could see it since prehistory, digging its forms into the daily intimacy and usefulness as well as in the exaltation of a sense of timelessness and the sacred. I loved this alliance between earth, water, air, fire, the eye and the hands, joined to create a living form, fragile walls but surprisingly lasting, empty but given to light.
Overall, it’s the humanity of pottery that appeals to me, and I would also say its innocence’.
Ceramicist Fance Franck (1931-2008).

Just around the corner from my apartment and nestled deep into Rue Bonaparte, you will find Atelier Fance Franck located in a modest apartment behind a huge Parisian door and through a sweet, open courtyard. Upon my arrival on Friday night I  was greeted by Kumiko, a gorgeous Japanese woman who has worked alongside the custodians of the studio to bring a beautiful collection of names such as Arita, Iwanga and Jun Nako, from Japan to a French audience. Kumiko was friendly and kind, taking me step by step through the collection, all while explaining the relevance of each work and the motivations of each artist.

Until her death in Paris on August 5, 2008, Fance Franck maintained a famous curiosity and energy after a long career with the Manufacture de Sèvres. She worked tirelessly in her studio, taking many trips to Japan married with both curiosity and a long established knowledge of Japanese and Chinese ceramic techniques. Franck also maintained a strong working relationship with the Japanese manufacturing factories and she continued her contacts with the finest specialists, questioning them, as well as the works of art from the greatest museums.
As an American Parisienne, following her death the studio was taken on by her French family who have continued to share the space and her legacy with the public, by means of honouring her work and her legacy.

In the early 2000’s I was a student of fine art majoring in History and Ceramics at the Royal Melbourne Institute. Names such as Fance Franck and Bernard Leach were legendary, not only for their incredible talent, but also for all that they did as pioneers of ceramics as a contemporary art form throughout the 20st century.

In Francks studio on Friday I observed simplistic Japanese influences- from the back of the studio where she kept three kilns and a neat arrangment of chairs around a modest workbench (still intact and very much part of the furniture so to speak), as well as carefully stacked books on low lying, simple hardwood shelves. Poring through French editions on glaze and porcelain techniques, I found myself momentarily removed from the every day, oblivious to the chatter of the people around me.

I enjoy moments like these, where I lose myself in names and incredible aesthetic, which inevitably sees harboured thoughts and the (sometimes) mundane of everyday just disappearing like magic- if only for a minute, or an hour, or sometimes a day.

The the quote used to open this piece feels apt for this particular moment in my life. I regularly reflect on my time in the studio all those years ago and have found myself only recently feeling inspired to eventually return – it might not be this year, or oven this decade, but for me, learning ceramic techniques was just like learning  life and I too recall developing a deep understanding of the link between scientific knowledge through experimenting with glaze, imagination and manual skills.  For me, ceramic art is a favoured art form and I feel so grateful and newly inspired after being afforded the opportunity to see Francks studio first hand, along with remnants from her life there. Her legacy is amazing and the space, so peaceful and contemplative.

Earlier in the week I joined my wonderful amie culturelle at another exhibition, this time on the right bank at Galerie Tamenaga. After crossing Pont Alexandre III, I left the Grand Palais on my left and the Petit Palais on my right, breathing in the beautiful cool air typical to this time of year.
The Élysée Palace was lit up, a sign that le chef was in residence and, as I looked up at the highest window, I observed a lone woman working at her desk- ‘6.15, time to go home,’ I thought to myself.
The blue, white and red of the French flag formed ripples as it fluttered atop the palace and policemen patrolled alongside the high walls of the palace gardens, blowing cigarette smoke into the darkness that enveloped me.

Since 1971, Galerie Tamenaga has been operational in Paris after first opening it’s doors in Tokyo in 1969, with its initial purpose in Japan being to take Modern Masters of French and European paintings, including Chagall, Van Dongen, Dufy, Lautrec, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rounault and others, to a curious Japanese market. The gallery is situated in Avenue Mantignon, a short walk through the dark streets leading off the Champs Elysées and just moments from the Palace.

At Tamenaga I joined the beautiful and the informed at a viewing of works by Paris based Chinese artist Chen Jiang Hong- a highly skilled illustrator in traditional form who has developed a unique aesthetic by merging Eastern and Western painting.
His works are huge as they are magnificent, with his process of dripping, sweeping and splashing inks and oil with long wolf-hair brushes, on canvasses laid directly onto the floor, referencing Chinese calligraphy and the tradition of Western abstraction. Chen’s cultural syncretism is the means by which he captures the essence of a subject.

As people spoke softly under striking canvases, my eyes darted about, discovering a little abstract boat here and a tiny hut in the foothills of mountains there, and Hong danced around the gallery in an immaculate velvet suit, graciously accepting praise as his audience observed his works, overwhelmed by their sheer beauty.

I make countless observations during a week in Paris and I am quite often surprised when I sit down to write, just how much I’ve seen and taken in over a short, few days.

Thursday marked ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ – a celebration of the famous red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France.
It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before it is released for sale on the third Thursday of November. ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ used to see heavy competition, with races to get the first bottles to different markets around the globe. The current release practice is to ship the wine ahead of the third Thursday of November, and release it to the local markets at 12:01 a.m. local time.

After class on Thursday, my friend Maria and I went for our routine debrief about countless verbs and endless frustrations. Our waiter proudly announced that he had taken delivery of ‘nouveau beaujolais’ just that morning, and while it’s not my favourite drop, I found myself ever obliging and surprised with its crispness after being chilled on delivery.

Whether it be making wine, art or conversation (the latter, particularly in another language)- all require a great deal of discipline and skill and I am so thankful for my new friends who I have made in this city, and who continue to share ‘their Paris’ with me- affording me new opportunities and experiences, sometimes just through newly opened eyes.

On Saturday morning I sipped coffee with a seasoned étranger à Paris, listening with intent as she shared tales of her life in this beautiful city, and I updated her on mine. I take great inspiration from these conversations, just as I get great excitement from observations made alone, in a café or on la terrasse.

While I had planned to centre this blog around Pierre, his lover and her lost phone, I am afraid I’ve become so inspired by the beauty that is art, conversation, new friends and wine, that you will have to wait until next week.

In Paris, I am also something of a sleuth. Please, call me Sherlock.

Picture: Fance Franck in her studio, Rue Bonaparte, circa 1950’s.

Solace.

Solace.

If solace is any sort of succour to someone, that is sufficient. I believe in the faith of people, whatever faith they may have’.

Studs Terkel (what a name and what an interesting man).

In my meanderings which fuel my musings, I quite often find myself in religious institutions of varying faiths and also in memorials where names adorn the walls, some in the thousands and others, in small handfuls.

A few short months ago, Dad and I travelled to the Somme where we visited cemetery upon cemetery dedicated to those who fell during the First World War. As we made the approach to Amians by train, my understanding of WWI (and most wars if the truth be known) was rusty, but after two weeks with my father who is something of a font when it comes to knowledge on military history, I was feeling better equipped when preparing my questions, as the grey matter in my head became wrapped slightly more neatly around the subject.

As far as WWI history goes, Armistice Day is highly topical, with so many poems, letters and tales centred around that date, 11/11/1918. During the war, love affairs were conducted entirely in paper and ink; mothers left behind could rest easy with the arrival of letters written by their sons from a land far away; exclamations were made following the Armistice ‘I’ll be home in February’ they’d write, only to be struck and taken by Spanish influenza during the weeks following the penning of their final note. As a tragic romantic, I scanned the walls of a thousand memorials during that trip with Dad, before madly searching the internet at night; my suitcase became a library as I collected paperbacks full of poetry, and my heart quite literally sank at the sight of another walled garden filled with uniform headstones over the rise, as we rounded another corner on the roads of the Somme.

Following the Armistice came the Treaty of Versailles, a document signed five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that is said to have triggered the horror of the war in the first place. The treaty had many provisions, with the most controversial requiring Germany and her allies to accept the responsibility for causing enormous loss and damage throughout the war. With this provision came unbelievable financial demands of Germany, totalling almost 132 billion marks (the equivalent of almost US $442 billion in todays currency) leaving the country in an impossible financial situation and in the years that followed, the treaty was violated and with these violations, saw the uprise of Adolf Hitler.

World War II changed the political alignment and social structure of the world. Domination was key, seeing the rise of the Soviet Union and the United States emerging as rival superpowers. No stone was left unturned, and a shiver is sent down my spine when I imagine the sheer brutality that unfolded as minorities were treated in a manner so abhorrent, you’d think that lessons would have been learned, but the shivers continue as I watch the news today, and yesterday and the inevitable days that will follow, as the powerful continue to throw their proverbial weight around, using the vulnerable as pawns on the huge chessboard that is our world map.

On Monday, following a small routine exam in the classroom, I took myself up to the Marais, one of my favourite quarters of Paris. Spanning the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, Le Marais (the marsh) is filled with history, and in 1240 the Order of the Temple built its fortified church just outside the walls of Paris in the northern section of the Marais. The Temple turned this quarter into a magnificent district which became known as the Temple Quarter – with many religious institutions built nearby; the des Blancs – Manteaux, de Sainte Croix de la Brettonerie and des Carmes Billettes as well as the church of Sainte Catherine du Val des Écoliers. In the centre of the Marais my favourite square, Place des Vosges, was once known as the Royal Square and it was designed under King Henri IV in 1605.

Until the 17th century, the Marais was the French nobility’s favourite place of residence and the architecture that I always observe in complete awe, is a constant reminder of this quarter’s affluent beginnings.

Following the French Revolution, the district was no longer the aristocratic playground that it was during the 17th and 18th centuries and because of this, it became a popular and active commercial area, hosting one of Paris’ main Jewish communities.
Therefore, towards the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, the district around Rue des Rosiers, referred to as the ‘Pletzl,’ welcomed many Eastern European Jews who reinforced the district’s clothing specialisation and commercial offerings.

Rue des Rosiers often plays host to my meanderings as I wander around Paris in a constant state of wanderlust. In this tiny historical strip I delight in little boys wearing the kippa, dodging through the legs of tourists munching on felafal as they take in endless Jewish bookshops, bakeries and felafal bars – pigeons dance with euphoria as they land after swooping, scrambling for the ends of freshly baked pretzels, pastries and abandoned pieces of pita bread. The high street stores have also moved in and the Marais has become something of a tourists haven- but if you can remove all that is unique to the 21st century and increased globalisation, the history is still there and it is in this, that I delight.

L’As Felafal is a place I discovered during my first winter sabbatical in Paris, on a visit to COS for a millionth warm scarf (I told you, the big names are dominant). Situated half way down Rue des Rosiers, this tiny and unremarkable cafe often sees queues longer than the street itself. It is written up in every, single guidebook and those in the know will remind you that its not actually the best felafel house in the Marais, but as a creature of habit, I beg to differ. The queues are monitored by groovy young guys on walkie talkies more appropriate to say, the door of a busting nightclub, and rather than wait for take away, I utilise my handy status of ‘tout seul’ (just one), which secures me a seat inside within seconds of arriving. The plates are plastic, the cutlery too, and the napkins are paper, bland and in a shade of menopausal yellow. The service is quick and the company kept while dining, is made up of a mix of ancient locals and their younger counterparts sitting at tables alongside hollering Americans who relish in their guidebook find. The felafel, it is just plain delicious.

As I nibbled away on my stuffed pita at lunch on Monday, the old women on the table beside me nattered in French – they were strong in their build and their silk neck scarves survived every single drip of hummus threatening to sully the bright colours of their scarves that brought a sense of chic to their sensible outfits of a skirt, white shirt and warm cardigan. They were regulars, the staff were familiar with them and polite in response to their every request- another bottle of tap water, a second Coke Zero for the woman on my right, more chilli sauce and a small plate of fries, arrived within moments of them having made each request. I watched a handsome older man rearrange his scarf to fit neatly under his jacket, and he carefully wiped his mouth after his final bite, before picking up his moto helmet and settling the bill. His shoes were immaculately clean and his corduroy trousers were pressed within an inch of their lives.

Full of felafel I decided to walk home the long way, across the Ile St Louis and around Notre Dame. As I made my way across Rue de Rivoli and along Rue Geoffrey l’Ansier, I stumbled across the Mémorial de la Shoah, a place that I’ve been meaning to visit for quite some time.

The museum is built on the site of the Memorial du Martyr Juif (the Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr). Once inside, I stood in a large hall with an eternal flame burning in its centre, before becoming lost in wall upon wall of transcripts and information dedicated to the memory of those who both died and survived, during the attempted extermination of Jews in Europe throughout the Second World War. Endless letters, legal transcripts and newspaper articles neatly arranged behind glass, told the story of thousands of people who were persecuted during the 1940’s – some of the information filled me with an inexplicable feeling of dread and others, a deep feeling of hope, as I read stories of the mind boggling methods used for survival.

I read about Klaus Barbie ‘the Butcher of Lyon,’ a man whose family fled to Germany from France at the end of the French Revolution, and whose father detested the French after a long and bitter fight alongside his fellow Germans in the First World War. In WW2 Barbie became a Gestapo functionary for the Nazis and was single handedly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jewish people. After the war he lived a life in exile in Bolivia, despite global outcry following his recruitment by the Americans for their anti Marxist efforts at the end of WW2, and he was finally tried for war crimes in France, in 1987. Young girls, by then grown women, testified at his trial describing ‘a man with evil eyes’. A young boy, by then also a grown man, spoke of Barbie ‘living a full life, he was allowed to live. I am alive but I am unable to live’. The trial was not without contradictions and controversies, with Barbie’s defence attorney citing the atrocities of the French political system committed post 1945- in particular the excusing of French citizens who had been protected by French legislation for war crimes under the Vichy Regime and also, in French Algeria.

Reading about this monster only further cemented in my mind how the power wielded through politics saddens me, as it always seems to result in the horror that is war. Nothing can ever excuse the seemingly endless way in which the innocent and the vulnerable have continued to fall prey to the powerful, as they make decisions born from megalomania and greed.

As I walked home, exhausted from almost two hours of translating text and feeling bothered that innocent people are still falling at the hands of the powerful in the year 2017, I thought about the old women on the table beside me at lunch, and the handsome man in the neatly pressed trousers – wondering if their families had a story of persecution.

On Wednesday evening I returned to my roots by attending a preview of works at Sotheby’s with a wonderful new friend who has lived and breathed Paris for her entire adult life.  It was a pertinent moment as I stood in front of the photos that formed a collection set to go on auction at the end of the week.
In a section dedicated to the works of Irving Penn, I found myself contemplating the innocence of youth; the aphrodisiac that is a cocktail of shellfish, drugs and cash; the seemingly simplistic littering of cigarette butts swept up on a New York street, (momentarily forgetting the giant that is tobacco companies), before finishing with a powerful portrait of Picasso, a man with his own foibles and complexities but, as I wrote last week, someone who delivered some of his most powerful works as a result of the confinement’s that were the occupation of Paris during WW2.

An extension of works were on view upstairs and it was here that I discovered ‘Rapture’ by Iranian born Shirin Neshat. The photo shows a desert scene in which a group of veiled women wearing flowing chadors walk through the sand, and it forms part of a series designed to address the social, political and physiological dimensions of women’s experiences in Islamic societies. It was created in 1999, ‘pre 11/9 America,’ which saw renewed tensions between the West and the Middle East. With this, it is said that current viewers’ reactions are ’informed by associations about Islam and Iran that would likely not have been affected perceptions of the work at the time of its 1999 creation’. As I read this, I pondered the way in which propaganda and news can alter the reaction to an already formed art work and the ironies and contradictions that we experience through looking at art, or reading a newly written piece of history influenced by the information of the current day.

Full of contemplation, I entered the next room where I found Tracey Moffatt’s ‘Something More,’ which immediately took me back to my days of being a student, where I spent hours penning history of art papers influenced by topics relatively contemporary, and which often left me feeling inexplicably helpless when contemplating my own country’s past and the often dreadful decisions made with a stroke of a pen that have left generations of people feeling displaced and completely misrepresented.

‘Something More’ was the topic of my first History of Art paper at university, and it was through this work that I began to gain a better understanding of our country and it’s patterned history, often with feelings of disbelief as I tried to make head and tail of the often shameful decisions of our past.

Whether it be through visiting a museum, reading a book, observing art, reading war time poetry, talking with friends and contemporaries, scaling walls of information with eyes brimming with tears, meeting new people, gaining new perspectives and most of all, trying to make sense of how we arrived at ‘today’ and the way in which today will inevitably influence tomorrow- each day I feel the tiniest bit closer to understanding our past, and this very moment.

And as for this post, if you’ve made it this far and through all of those historical ramblings- thank you! I sat down earlier this morning with the intention of writing a short and reflective piece after an incredibly interesting week, and have managed to spend most of today  having lightbulb moments as I tapped out what feels like a contemporary history essay.

One thing is for sure, I find my own solace in joining the dots created throughout history, as I try and bring relevance to my mixed bag of interests- and here, in Paris, they all seem to make perfect sense and I am constantly reminded that nothing ever does really change.

To think that this weeks musings were all brought about by a simple craving for the humble falafel.

Pictured: Irving Penn: Picasso, 1957. Estimate, 60,000- 80,000 euros.

 

 

 

Time and space.

Time and space.

How did it get so late so soon?’
‘It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?’

(Dr Seuss, easily one of my favourite people I’ll never meet).

This quote perfectly sums up how I currently feel- obviously the speed of light and the rapidness of time is completely out of my hands, but it wont stop whizzing by and suddenly, the Christmas tree is up in Galerie’s Lafayette.

How on earth did that happen, I continue to wonder?

On Friday I visited the Musée Picasso in the 3rd Arrondissement which is a favourite place of mine, not just for the collection, but also the magnificent chateau in which the collection is housed. Each time I wander past I have to stop and take a big, deep breath- it is simply beautiful.

Currently the collection on view is Année Erotique, a celebration of 1932 – an event that reports a complete year through a chronological presentation of Picasso’s work and archives. The focus is on Picasso as a painter and also as a man, with so many of the works about his subjects and also his involvement with the subject in each picture.

Following this exceptional collation of works, I continued to the second floor where I found an extension of his ‘mirror portraits’ in further works featuring his usual suspects, Dora Maar, Marié Therese and of course, Olga, the Russian ballerina who he met on the set of a ballet (for which he was the costume and set designer) and who later became his wife and mother of their son, Paulo.

In 1937 Picasso set up his studio in the 6th arrondissement, just a few doors down from my tiny Parisian home. Most days I meander past the huge iron gates at number 7 and imagine the names littered throughout my art history papers of almost two decades ago, smoking cigarettes and lulling about on armchairs during German occupation (and until Picasso was finally evicted in the late 1960’s).

Today, it’s hard to imagine Paris during occupation where rations were in place, the treatment of Jewish people abhorrent and, for a city so famous for its light, to fall silent and dark between the hours of 9pm and 5am as a result of  strict curfews. The crackling music on the radio was replaced by enemy propaganda and it was throughout this period that Picasso began the drafts for (arguably) his most famous work, Guernica.

The confinement Picasso experienced during occupation (as he could not return to his home in Francoist Spain) is echoed in the figure of the imprisoned woman in her chair as if confined in a narrow space, hence the ‘armchair’ portraits of this time.

Dora Maar, a talented photographer, became Picasso’s companion from 1936 – 1944 and it is said that Picasso’s obsession with Dora inspired the ‘women in armchairs’ series which were created throughout occupation. All just down the road from where I now live.
By 1944, his works were distorted and their colours muted, bearing the scars of occupation.

Friday’s visit to the Musée Picasso was, as always, a reminder of the artist’s complicated relationship that he had with women. He either revered them or abused them and typically had relationships ongoing with several women at the same time. His sexuality fueled his art and, in an age where we continue to read about the complexities of men as (some) continue to take advantage of women- revisiting the works of a man so revered (but in his death, held to account in more recent journals), was a reminder of a master and also, a monster.

As I headed home Michael Jackson flung the doors open to the metro, sweating as he secured his money pouch around his tiny waist before moonwalking down the train. He held a leather cap in his outstretched hand and the backing music to ‘Don’t stop til you get enough’ played on his abandoned speaker set in the doorway. Some people nodded to the beat while others scrolled through their phones, headphones in their ears – oblivious to this performance. I could smell stale booze as faux MJ made his way back to his music station before changing the song on a pink iPhone tangled in endless cables connected to the speakers.

Jumping off at Châtelet before changing lines I hummed ‘Heal the World’ as I bustled to the next train. Once on board I found a boy growing his first beard playing ‘Blue Moon’ on his clarinet, pausing to welcome everyone aboard before wishing us a bon voyage as he grappled for his mouthpiece. It is a joyous thing, the music on the metro and I am always grateful for the weird and wonderful types who entertain me on otherwise rather mundane journeys where grey faces stare ahead atop swaying bodies, decked out in navy suits.

So much to contemplate and so much to take in.

Paris is a mind game, and through my life here I am continuously challenged, my beliefs are questioned and my judgements often feel hollow and flawed. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because each day I learn something new about myself and my surrounds.

As I type this, those clanging bells toll outside signalling another hour, just as they did more than 70 years ago when the city fell dark.  I wish I could silence them and stop the clock, if only for a moment.

Pictured: Dora in her armchair, just next door.