Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Day 20 - Paris Tour & Musee D'Orsay

One of these is a monument
Peter went to the Musee d"Orsay. He took Sue with him because she had been a good girl.

It was the highlight of my trip ... admittedly so far, but never the less. Since seeing the small collection of paintings from d'Orsay when it was in Australia a few years ago and knowing the works in the collection are those which Sue used to first arouse my interest in art, d'Orsay had loomed like a powerful day from the first moment we decided to leave Australia.

Before we got there, we toured on the Les Cars Rouge (The Red Bus) as by catching it where our Metro line intersected, we would do the two hour two and get off at d'Orsay. Arriving at the Paris Opera, we took directions from a security guard from the Opera House and as we walked away, we were confronted by a band of gypsies (no Hendrix, more's the pity). These were youngsters pretending to collect money for deaf-mutes. You sign the paperwork and hand over money. Sometimes they even pretend to be deaf-mutes but amazingly gain the power of hearing and speech immediately after you have handed over your euros. We had seen them before at Avignon. They are adept at hitting you up as you exit Metro stations or when you move into a change of light. The security guard acted quickly to move them on.

Les Cars Rouge was a fun way to drive about the centre of Paris in the open air.

Arriving at Musee d'Orsay, we again bypassed the long lines with our Paris Museum Pass, wandered in and had some lunch. Sue struck up a conversation with a French lady and in the process, it was discovered she had a friend from Byron Bay. Sue described the Cote d'Azure as being like Byron Bay. When asked to describe her home, she said Tamworth was a Provence of Australia. Exaggeration is apparently not a criminal offence in France.

I could detail for you the next five hours, describe paintings, try and recapture for your the thrill it was to stand before paintings I have given my heart to in books but I wouldn't come close to recreating the experience. I had seen van Gogh masterpieces when they came to Australia but in those horribly short five hours I stood before Manet, Monet, Le Trec, Gaugin, Degas, Cezanne, Surat, the sometimes controversial Courbet, Sisley and of course, my beloved Vincent. Renoir was the biggest surprise. His work has a softeness in the brushstrokes and a masterly control of light, especially those paintings where the light is dappled. For those who know of my love for cricket, today was like watching Bradman, Hobbs, McCartney, Trumper, Chappell and Ponting bat whilst Lillee, Lindwall, Warne, O'Reilly, Larwood and Spoforth bowled ... all in the one afternoon, all of it sublime, none of it comparable.

My bias, of course, falls to Vincent. His self portrait (1887), which I had seen in Australia, stunned me, shredded me, left me emotionally drained. He has shown himself in deepest depression. His eyes solid dark pools without iris. Strident brushstrokes create a harsh study of self reflection. I stood and stared and it welled up in me, leaking fat tears down my cheeks, raising sobs until Sue squeezed my hand. Yes, I'd seen this before. Not long enough ago, I once new this picture from my own mirror.

I left the museum knowing that if I was honest, I would never see such a collection of beauty and power and skill and wonderous art in one place on any other afternoon. How many times do we genuinely get to say that?

Our trip home was less inspiring. We were subjected to the gypsy gold ring trick at the Opera and then, having gained confidence in the metro, we got lost at first and ended up on the wrong platform and then had our fifteen minutes train ride peppered with people with problems. I can feel for them but without any knowledge of what was causing their unrest, I also to had to feel uncomfortable and flatly, scarred for Sue and I. The fellow across from us became increasingly unsettled as Sue and I whispered conversation, believing I suppose, it was against him. He reported us using his hand as a telephone before picking his nose and flicking it into open space. At one stop, a young lady no more than twenty, entered the carriage and delivered a three minute soliloquy in French with enormous passion, volume and distress, before thanking us for listening and then sitting down. Before leaving at our station, we were rather forcefully approached by a beggar for money. Saying no just seemed to irritate his sense of how the economy worked.

Sue now concurs with me that travelling on the Metro at night is not such a good move. After all, there was still about six hours of daylight left when these matters occurred.

The latter of which is of no consequence. To judge a place by its eccentricities, is to command a small mind and the sensory input I was exposed to this afternoon demanded so much more of me. This afternoon rates among the greatest experiences of a life littered with such things, as though so many other things have happened leading to d'Orsay. Had they not, the sensory overload would not have been as great and the experience not as savoured. As a minor poet, the sense of belonging I have has been both humbling and empowering. The work of greats, unfortunately almost exclusively men, lifts me. The change I see about me to change such imbalances gives me greater hope than ever.

Peter had a wonderful day. I know you didn't get the chance, but thanks for asking.

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