Lest you think we are shallow people and spent all of our time eating and shopping in Paris amidst all of the fabulous museums, well, I’m here to tell you…um…well…um…
We thought we were cultured people. We like music and art as much as the next PBS subscriber. We were looking forward to seeing all of the priceless works we’ve seen in magazines and on television. Thom’s mom said the best museum in Paris (where we’d recognize the most artwork) was the D’Orsay, so off we went.
We saw lots of portraits, landscapes, Jesus/angels/Saints paintings and sculptures. I liked the first 10 sculptures and the first 20 paintings and examined them closely. Then, they all started to look the same. (I mean, how many times can one view a portrait of baby Jesus and mother Mary?) After about three hours of this I was spent. I was afraid to show my gaucheness to Thom but finally cried, “I can’t take anymore art!!!” Thom surprised me and cried back, “Neither can I!” We went to the snack bar to see if museum food in France was like museum food worldwide, and, sorry to say, yes it is. Here is the Cafe du Lion near the front of the museum (you’re not allowed to take photos inside so this is their stock photo).
As we enjoyed our refreshments I said, “I know we should be moved by all of this art but it’s just not happening for me.” Thom nodded and said, “Pearls before swine, it’s wasted on us.” He wanted to go continue his search for that perfect pair of shoes. I wanted to check out that gourmet olive oil store we passed on the way to the museum. I suppose that after almost 20 years of adventure/outdoor travel (zip-lining, hiking, bungee jumping, rock-climbing, camping with the lions, white-water rafting, skiing, safaris, the Galapagos, etc.) I shouldn’t be surprised by our (dare I say?) boredom at one of the most fantastic museums in the world. But really, we both felt kind of sheepish and wondered what was wrong with us!? (Just so you know, I’m not a complete country bumpkin. I do like cultural and historical museums where you can see how others live and/or what happened in their lives. For example, I found the Tsunami museum in Hilo, Hawaii, very interesting [this was before the Japanese Tsunami], as well as the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam [where you get to step inside the area where her family hid].)
Before we totally gave up on the museum we thought that since there was a special impressionist exhibition we should go see that. Then, we’d call it a day and go back to exploring the streets of Paris.
Viewing the impressionists was a totally different experience for me compared to viewing the more traditional art. The colors, the subjects, the techniques were so much more vivid and emotional. Standing in the middle of Blue Water Lilies by Monet was especially moving. The canvas is huge – 4 ft 3.25 inches by 6 ft 7 inches. We had rented those audiophones that explain certain pieces and the narrator said that Monet’s intention was to make one feel as if he were standing in the middle of the pond, with water lilies all around. Honestly, he succeeded. I could literally feel the water lilies bend around me and the water gently ripple by as I stood at the center of the painting. It was truly amazing.
That’s when an epiphany hit. According to the museum’s audiotapes artists tended to focus on perfecting their craft, or, expressing their innermost selves in an attempt to elicit emotion from the viewer. Descriptions of paintings of the former focused on how the artist captured light and shadows, on how they tried to paint or sculpt the mouths and eyes as true to life as possible. For one painting the artist was quoted as saying one of his goals was to capture “the perfect pink circulation” of the young woman’s thigh. In contrast, for the latter group, the audiotapes said the artists focused on evoking emotion or feelings, with less emphasis on getting the portrait or landscape exactly true to life. In thinking about it that night I realized that the type of artwork I liked was the latter – the kind that evoked an emotional or physical feeling (like Monet’s or Van Gogh’s). The pieces focusing on technique (I’m embarrassed to acknowledge to all of my friends/relatives with advanced degrees in art history) were a bit boring to me.
Thom’s museum favorite was a Van Gogh titled Noon: Rest from Work (The Siesta). We both liked a lot of Van Gogh’s work. (Thom said it was almost like Van Gogh was high when he did a lot of his work, though that’s just a guess since neither of us would know about such things.)
Having found some art we liked made me feel a little bit better about cutting our museum time short. Perhaps I wasn’t as boorish as I feared?
Well, our next stop put that dream to rest. We learned to love good quality olive oil when we lived in Italy 2006/07 and have it at almost every meal – with bread, on salads, drizzled over vegetable side dishes. (As an aside, understanding what good quality olive oil tasted like led me to understand why I don’t like most store-bought Italian salad dressings -> the oil is often rancid [or goes rancid super fast] and gives it that icky funny taste.)
Premiere Pression Provence was our kind of store – all kinds of olive oils (from greens to blacks to fruity to dry to smokey).
They provided spoons (see below) for us to try all of the different varieties. (For the record, I like fruity).
When we were done tasting I looked for a place to throw away our used spoons. There wasn’t a trashcan in site! All of a sudden it dawned on me – the spoons in the left bucket were new, clean spoons. The ones on the right were used. Guess which spoons I had been pulling for us to use??? Arghhhh!!! Yup, the used spoons on the right.
I made a beeline for the samples of fleur de sel, which is a super-duper extra-special holy-magical wonder salt from the coast of France. I wasn’t so much interested in its mythical qualities as I was in its sanitizing effects (realizing it was probably too late for that). For a good five minutes I tossed pinches of the special salt into my mouth and swished it all around in an attempt to kill other people’s germs. Thom just groaned and rolled his eyes when he heard about the spoons he had just used and figured it was too late to do anything. Fortunately, it’s been about three weeks now and we both have remained healthy, though the thought of it still grosses me out. The store clerk was nonplussed. With a dismissive wave of her hand she said, “The French are not so concerned about germs as you Americans are.”