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Paris pilgrimage

FRANCE | Sunday, 22 February 2015 | Views [769]

Some geezer keeps getting in the way of good photos!

Some geezer keeps getting in the way of good photos!

Disney and the Doors in one day.

Paris hadn't even been a part of my original plan. Europe is full of so many amazing cities that Paris was just going to be one of those ones that got over-looked, largely because I suspected it would be full of French people. Whoever said the French were rude and arrogant? Yeah right, that was me, but there is nothing like a bit of travel to highlight erronous assumptions. They have been nothing but delightful, extraordinarily helpful and more than willing to overlook my attempts to murder their language.

By some strange stroke of luck, I had been reading Victor Hugo's 'The hunchback of Notre Dame' as I was planning this trip, and suspecting I had a latent love for epic structures, I decided to add a stopover in Paris. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque revealed the depth of my appreciation for big old erections and while not quite having that effect on me, even my first glimpse of the twin towers of its belfry from Place de la Concorde left me wide eyed and slack jawed.

Still impressive from a distance. Ignoring how bad Disney is at historical fact, I had watched it's animated version of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' one night in Istanbul. It had served it's purpose and got me more excited to see the building with my own eyes, but also made me want to see if Esmeralda was around and using Tinder. I had turned that off after my request for company for the concert yielded nothing but more disappointment, and considering my degree of comfort with my own company, I have concluded that the app is best left to the more desparate and dateless.

My first night was in the hotel Laura had booked but I moved to a dorm in a hostel closer to Notre Dame for the next two nights. Before leaving, I paid an extra 12Euro to have as much white toast, croissants and black tar coffee as I wanted, which wasn't much at all surprisingly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a hostel costing a third of the price offered such a feast of simple carbohydrates for free. So I did the 25 minute walk feeling 5 kilo heavier than I wanted and wondering if the French ever went to the toilet eating so many crepes, croissants and baguettes. Probably not I concluded, or else their public toilets wouldn't try and kick you out after 20 seconds.

Taking nearly 80 years to be constructed into its current appearance, Notre Dame has only undergone a few minor cosmetic changes in the seven centuries since. And that is understandable as the edifice and interior is as awe-inspiring as it needs to be. The patronage of the French Monachy was demonstrated by the 28 Kings that line the lower portion of the fascade. Every other ornate embellishment is either Christian or symbolic of the Gothic style of architecture that the building gave birth to.

A queue to enter filled half of the front courtyard so I returned later completely unsurprised to find the line had tripled in length and snaked back on itself. Leaving entrance until the last part of the day meant I missed out on ascending the belfry due to 'technical reasons'. A multilingual sign hung over the fence told me so, accepting my maledictions without expanding on what they were.

Unlike Islamic places of worship, I find the Christian iconography too literal, and too depressing to be inspiring. Jesus being cruficied is important to remind Christians that he died for their sins, but that excuses me from feeling guilty for commiting such sins. The cross is suffering incarnate, and the martyred saints that accompany Jesus show the casual observer Christianitys history of persecution and suffering. Mohammed cannot be portrayed lest he distracts one from the grace of Allah, so mosques are filled with elaborate Arabic calligraphy of Koran verses and pretty mosiac patterns. I always found Buddhist iconography to impress me most because the serene countenance of the Buddha was always something I felt I wanted to aspire to.

The hallowed halls of Notre Dame I also aspired to be a rock star and visiting Jim Morrisons grave would have been far more important when I was an impressionable teenager. The Doors provided a large portion of the soundtrack to my tripping and even though their airplay has lessened over the years, the life and poetry of Jim Morrison still fills me with wonder and inspiration.

I paid my respects to other musical heroes in Theodore Rossini, Georges Bizet and Frederick Chopin, and having read 'The Portrait of Dorian Grey' before hunchback, I also visited Oscar Wilde's lipstick covered memorial. Having seen such impressive and worthy reminders of the aforementioned, I was somewhat shocked to find Jim's uninspiring little plot stuck behind other, grander tombs.

It was covered in flowers, graffiti, stickers and other ways I found it baffling that people would think is a sign of respect. The area was even cordoned off meaning my plans to have a beer while seated beside a rock idol will have to be left to photoshop to fulfill.

This photo has not been doctored at all.Seems legit.


Caravaggio and Canova to conclude.

Setting aside a day for the Louvre is better than none at all, but is tantamount to giving yourself 20 minutes to read the entire Buddhist Canon. Therefore, I had to pick out the highlights and anything more would be a bonus. On top of that, I was joined by Charlotte, an ex-girlfriend whose break up had inspired me to move away from Melbourne and started what has turned out to be a rather transient lifestyle. For that I am grateful to her, and even more happy to hear she is blissfully married and living an enviable existence in the south of France.

Having Canova's sculpture recently inked into my arm, it was there I wanted to head first. Had it been the sole display, I could have happily spent the day staring bewildered at it's skilfull execution and the dynamic emotion of its characters. Instead, I happied myself with 20 minutes and about 50 photos before the vastness of the Louvres collection beckoned me to move on.

You're in the way of a good photo mate.

Caravaggio has been a favourite artist of mine since seeing some of his pieces in a Melbourne gallery at an age that I am now too old to care when exactly. He is famed for his use of foreshortening and being one of the best proponents of chiaroscuro, or the contrast of light and shadow. His work has inspired a lot of my own, but I was somewhat disappointed to see the only a few of his lesser pieces were on display.

All day we wandered amongst masterpieces that alone could arrest your attention for hours, unfortunately being collected together meant they were afforded minutes each. Nearly walking past a small room in one of the more distant wings, Charlotte and I nearly overlooked what easily became both of our favourite find for the day. Loius-Leopold Boilly is an unparalled master in intricate detail and it was this particular skill that almost made us miss his work. The pieces looked more like scaled down versions of much larger pieces and as an artist myself, I found it absolutely baffling how he managed to squeeze so much fine detail into so small a canvas. The scenes themselves, or the composition aren't as impressive as other highlights like Theordore Gericaults 'Raft of the Medussa' but Boillys work deserves far more credit than what it's placement in the Louvre showed it gets.

No photo could do it justice. Before too long the gallery was closing and we upped our pace to power pack in as much art appreciation as we could. We made a brief stop at Vermeer's 'The lacemaker' but Rembrandt and his peers had a few photos taken as we hurried by. Eventually we were ushered out the door and my Paris pilgrimage was over all too soon. My three days were an incredibly profound experience and parting ways with Charlotte, I made her a sincere promise that I would be back as soon as I could, and for a much longer stay.

Tags: art, boilly, canova, france, louvre, notre dame, paris, the doors

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