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O Fim duma Viagem

About suffering, they were never wrong, the old masters

FRANCE | Wednesday, 16 September 2015 | Views [253]

Sunday, Laure had to work, so she arranged for me to spend the day with some of the other anglophones from the day before. This turned out to be both Sarahs, because they were up and the other two weren’t. (To make matters worse, American Sarah would sometimes talk about the previous person who had stayed in the apartment, also named Sarah. One of these days Sara(h)s are going to take over the world.)

American Sarah made me an omelette, and we hung around the apartment for a bit talking. Mostly in French, though occasionally that would fail and we’d switch to English for a little bit. (I needed to fall back into that to explain the basics of housing and what I’d known about where I was living and staying when I came to France. The weekend alone in Dijon, but semester in Paris, made things a little more confusing.) All of the English-speakers that I met this weekend were here as “lectrices” at a university. Basically, they’d gotten a grant to come teach English in Dijon for a year. I think the apartment might have been an aspect of that, since the previous Sarah had also been a lectrice. American Sarah had recently graduated from Amherst, and Canadian Sarah was from Calgary, though she’d just been in New Zealand with her boyfriend. Both of them were very surprised by Carthage’s study-abroad requirements for language majors.

They had a whole list of potential activities in and around Dijon, ranging from a crafts day (it was a rainy and gloomy day,which made that fitting) to museums to a movie to walking around outside and getting to see more of Dijon. This was an attempt to compensate for the fact that it was Sunday in a small French town, and most things were closed. However, it meant I had to make a decision. Since I’d spent most of the previous day cooped up in houses, I said that if it wasn’t actively raining, I’d be up for going out. From there we settled on seeing a museum, specifically, le Musée des beaux arts.

The museum was mostly centered on Middle Ages and Renaissance art. The top floor was dedicated to the Middle Ages in Europe, the second floor to to the Middle Ages in Bourgogne, and the first floor was a continuation of that before moving on to the Renaissance in Europe. (The ground floor was basically just the entrance.) It’s not a famous collection, by any means, but it is a nice collection of well-restored paintings, and the building itself was of historical interest. (I think it used to be a fortress or something like that. If you looked away from the paintings and objects, there were occasional notes about the original building and room you were standing in.)

One thing about the Middle Ages that I re-remembered: they sure did love their religions. It’s one thing to know this as a fact in a textbook or on a test, and quite another to walk through room upon room where every single painting has a saint or angel in it. (Most of the pictures also had donors in them.) The vast majority of surviving artifacts or sculptures were religious. In fact, the only consistently secular things I saw were swords and tapestries. There were a variety of swords, ranging from thin “courts swords” to two-handed blades that were bigger than me. And only a couple of tapestries, but they were all commemorating secular events, often wars. Other than that, a lot of saints, a lot of scenes from the bible, and a lot of crosses.


The Sarahs and I agreed that we’d probably get a lot more out of the museum if we had a greater familiarity with Christianity. Or if we’d gotten the audio guides. But since we hadn’t, and we weren’t able to enlighten the others, we were left staring at images we didn’t understand terribly well, but could artistically appreciate.

Therefore, the Renaissance was a welcome relief. The art was, quite frankly, better (it’s amazing what a little perspective can do.) Plus, very suddenly, the subject matter stopped having to do with Christianity. Because they were trying to imitate the ancient Greeks, and the ancient Greeks didn’t have Christianity. So the entire subject matter was mythological or historical. I found the statues particularly beautiful, and, after an hour and a half around medieval art, had a much higher appreciation of the Renaissance.

One of the last rooms had a sketchpad open for visitors to add to. So we started a fresh page and all added something to it. American Sarah drew a quick sketch of one of the statues of Hebe, I added a Penrose Triangle in the corner, and Canadian Sarah wrote the patriotic “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” we signed it, and left the museum.

By this point,we were all starving. Besides, it was close enough to the 15:00 time we’d roughly arranged to meet Laure at L’Edito, so we headed there. A phone call to confirm the plan got us Laure’s recommendation that the mussels and burgers were both very good. I’d been in the mood for mussels for a while, so this suited me just fine.

L’Edito met my standards for a good restaurant before I even saw a menu. It was full of books. The shelves behind us, the ornamental shelves by other diners, even staircase was made of transparent panels so one could see the books inside it. I wanted to stay there forever.


L'Edito stairs

It helped that the food was plentiful and delicious.

Late lunch

We’d given up on speaking French about halfway through the museum, and even when Laure arrived, we stuck with English. Alex and Charlotte also had food or a coffee there. And we hung out, avoiding the rain and talking, until it was time for me to catch my train. I did, without difficulty, and had just put up my bag and taken my seat when I heard someone say my name. I turned around to see Clara and, when the train pulled out without anyone sitting next to her, I went over to join her. We talked about our weekends, which had been different, (she’d been with two sisters, and they’d kept her pretty much constantly fed) but similarly enjoyable and exhausting. There was a significant part of us that just wanted to be back home. Only 90 more minutes to Paris.

Tags: art, books, middle ages, museum, renaissance

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