There is simply no conceivable way to describe a whirlwind trip three weeks after it happened. I begin with a tangential but lovely epigraph on writing from A Moveable Feast, a paperback given to me by Mary Grace for my 22nd birthday.
“But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.” -Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Hemingway’s Paris was emblematic of my experience, minus the constant eau-de-vies at good old Gertrude’s. I strolled through the maze of sculptures in the Jardin des Tuileries, traipsed down the Rue de Rivoli, and stared hungrily at Boucher oil paintings. I explored tiny bookshops in St. Germain and the 1st, and washed down the airiest of baguettes with eau gazeuse.
So now for a true sentence: I spent the majority of my holiday in solitude. I’d wake up early and rather poetically open the glass doors of my Airbnb to reveal misty sunrises, shower and snack on strawberries and cheese, and leave the house by no later than ten. I introduced myself to the world slowly, over the delicacy of melted hot chocolate and usually a pain au chocolat.
On several occasions, I sat at Les Deux Magots (queue Hemingway, queue Joyce, queue Picasso!) and photographed the beautiful people of St. Germain rather conspicuously under heated lamps. The service was slow, but due to my continual uncertainty concerning the shrinking contents of my funds, I was extra pleasant.
The chocolat chaud in Paris was thick and sweet, and I’d nurse a teacup while overhearing the conversations of both tourists and the luxurious regulars.
I also tried morning servings of hot chocolate at Angelina’s, where I’d been with family as a child, Cafe de Flore, which was adjacent to Les Deux Magots and also a former literary haunt, and the Ladurée on Avenue des Champs–Élysées.
A typical sit down hot chocolate costs upwards of €8, but their impeccable quality was in my eyes justifiable. Plus, as aforementioned, the service is so spacey that one can sip at their leisure. I was too nervous and excited to truly relax into the wicker chairs of these cafes, but as verified by my grandmother who had visited two years prior, lounging with a book for hours was acceptable.
Les Deux Magots had the creamiest and sweetest chocolat chaud (truly evocative of a melted candy bar!), but Ladurée had the best accompaniment of chantilly cream, perhaps because it was sweetened. I most enjoyed the atmospheres at Angelina’s, for the antiquated nostalgia and “extra” quality of the decor, and also the ethereal pastel blues, greens, and purples of butterfly-wing motifs at Ladurée.
Following breakfast, I’d use my Ulmon app (which allowed me to track destinations and my location sans data usage and wifi!) to find museums and post offices. For the whole trip, I seemed to be on a continual quest for stamps, and then for yellow drop off boxes, which were sparsely situated throughout the city.
I first ventured to the Musée Jacquemart-André, which had been recommended to me by my Senior thesis professor, who encouraged my penchant for rococo. The mansion was built in the latter half of the 19th-century, and contains an impeccable collection of Renaissance and Louis XV-style art.
Edouard Andre began collecting small items and landscapes in 1860, and met artist Nelie Jacquemart in 1872. By 1881, the two were married and building a fine collection of paintings, tapestries, and assorted antiquities. In 1913, shortly following the death of Jacquemart, the museum was opened to the public on Boulevard Haussman. The museum reminded me a lot of the Cognacq-Jay in Le Marais as it wa s a carefully curated collection of all things delicate and pastel, with Baroque and Renaissance flourishes integrated into the galleries on the top floors.
I went to the Louvre early in the A.M. the next day, and marvelled at the crispness of the statues looking down at the pyramids. I appreciated the juxtaposition of glass and wire as it intersected such fabulous taupe rocaille. The museum wasn’t very crowded, so I often had entire rooms to myself. I was on a one-stop mission to find Bouchers, whose color palettes I grew to recognize quickly for their effervescence and almost glowing quality.
I ascended several stone staircases to the Salle Boucher, where I saw the ghosts of my thesis project: Diana Leaving Her Bath, Morning Coffee, Rinaldo and Armida. My favorite Boucher in the Louvre’s collection, however, was The Rape of Europa, for the intricate swirls of teal and siren-quality of the sea maidens.
I also took notes on a piece by Nicolas de Largillière called The Study of Different Types of Hands, which featured a collection of fleshy hands churning in the darkness of an oil background. The piece was painted in 1715, and I now consider it one of my favorites for the chiaroscuro, hallucinatory quality.
After the Louvre, I went to the Centre Pompidou to see an exhibition on Magritte and Twombly. I was introduced to Jeff Koons at the Pompidou, and although modern art is not necessarily my oeuvre, I can appreciate certain appropriators of the ready-made like Koons, and existentialist surrealists like Magritte. Perhaps I failed to do enough research on Twombly, but I just can’t seem to cultivate a fondness for his messy twirls and scribbles.
The next day, I went to Le Marais and explored my favorite museum (it’s free!), the Cognacq-Jay, which I did not realize had an entire room devoted to Boucher! I felt an affinity for The Beautiful Kitchen Maid, which revealed a swarthy and voluptuous brunette gazing down at her earnest lover in front of a brown kitchen. Diana’s Return From The Hunt was also particularly moving in the same glowing greens and blues of Diana Leaving Her Bath, and I enjoyed staring at the familiar face of Louix XV’s maitresse-en-titre, a woman who I grew to know quite well in the Fall Semester, the Madame de Pompadour.
The Cognacq-Jay is also filled with antique treasures, gilded bedposts, chandeliers, and bejeweled pins. I dream of living in a house of the rocaille style, like the Cognacq-Jay, or the Jacquemart-Andre.
A friend from Art History had recommended the Marian Goodman Gallery to me, which was featuring feminist symbology. I quite appreciated the uterine-watercolors and ready-made ballet slippers reading emblems like “No God in My Vagina.” I am not usually one for exhibitionism, but this show was particularly well curated, much like the ones at Marian Goodman in Manhattan.
I revisited the Musée des Arts Decoratifs for the color-coordinated chinoiserie and happened upon Tenue Correcte Exigee, an interactive exhibit about scandalous fashion featuring epigraphs about the fashion in controversy.
Finally, I explored something which I had not seen before, the Musee d’Orsay, a converted train station featuring fantastic and moving pieces by artists like Courbet, Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Whistler, Degas… Suffice to say, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the collection. The pieces that spoke to me included Millet’s Le Printemps, La Lavandera by Herbert, Clésinger’s contorted Femme Piquee Sur Un Serpent sculpture, which rested not far from a version of the Statue of Liberty in the main hall, amongst others.
My absolute favorite piece in the collection was a bronze relief of Ophelia by Preault. I do not think that I truly appreciated sculpture until I saw the ellipse of Ophelia’s body melting in the emotive spheres of contortion in the rectangular frame. Wow.
Not to be forgotten, of course, is the Palace of Versailles. I remember the crowded labyrinth of highly embellished rooms from my visit as a child, but cultured an entirely new love for the 2000 room creation of Louis XIV-Louis XVI whilst wearing my glasses. Every edge was sharper, every tapestry more fine than the next. I was awestruck in the most dramatic of ways by seductive furnishings and gilded moldings. Versailles is decadence in action, a fairytale palace haunted by the ghosts of liberty and the French Revolution.
I was quite anxious about taking the RER to Versailles by myself, so I found a guided tour from Rue de Rivoli from Paris City Vision for an overwhelming (but worth it) €79. I met a lovely Irish and Sicilian family vacationing from North Jersey on the bus ride over, who happened to know many of the same people that I know at Fordham. Quelle coincidence! (The world is much smaller than we think.)
The city of Versailles lies West of Paris, and Paris City Vision provided us with an audio tour on the way over. I learned about the many seductions and festivities that served as distractions at the Court of Versailles, about Louis XIV’s gorgeous legs, and was refreshed on the Rococo style of Louis XV.
Unfortunately, however, the roll of film that I took at Versailles was largely ruined by my impatience with my camera. Of all the rolls, this one was the most precious to me, so naturally, it had to be destroyed. Although I still managed to save a few stills from a previous roll, I reasoned that perhaps such beauty is not meant to be captured. I will just have to visit the Hall of Mirrors (and Paris!) again.
Overall, my January trip to Paris was fantastic. It was not surprisingly liberating, but surprisingly tranquil as I was happy to spend the nights eating hummus and drinking sparkling water in my apartment on Rue de Troyon. Usually, I am in a continual race to the finish line, and feel the pressure to make friends, meet as many people as possible, and have a downright WILD experience.
This trip, however, was different. I explored at my leisure (God bless you, Ulmon app!), was patient and kind with myself, and appreciated the food and culture of Paris. Being by myself, I was able to do exactly what I want, which was geek out on art, window shop at Galeries Lafayette and Le BHV, and take long baths at two in the morning.
I only went to one bar, which had been recommended to me by Ella and Brittany from Fordham, a bougie lounge filled with beautiful people called hôtel costes, where I nursed a pina colada and failed to take quality photos because of the ambient lighting.
What a magical and transformative journey.