Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Day 21 - Eiffel Tower & Musee Rodin

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Today would have been one of Sue's biggest highlights of coming to Paris but for our planning falling through a crack. Unknown to us before about 9:00pm last night, to go up the Eiffel Tower beyond the first level, you have to either book with a tour (who have priority entry) or book in advance. Anyone can line up to go to the first platform but beyond that needs to be booked weeks in advance at this time of year. I spent four hours working on an alternative and had found one by this morning, but it involved changing the end of our trip and Sue wouldn't have it.

After uneventful Metro and bus travel to the Tower, by mid morning we were standing under it. To be honest, I was flabbergasted. Until now, I was more full of cynicism at Gustave Eiffel's drive to complete the tower, known in Paris now as "the old lady" but standing so close and feeling the immense size, the engineering of it took over. Made basically of triangles - a very stable staple of engineering - Eiffel has managed to use steel and rivets to create beautiful curves, the most dramatic of which are the hyperbolic curves which race to the heavens. I've delved into the history before so will leave that for your own internet searching but it is an awesome building. It is said, that of the 27 million visitors who come to Paris every year, 27 million of them come to the base of the Eiffel Tower.

I couldn't get a closer shot because
I was afraid they might
The first we were aware of increased security activity today was here at the tower. I counted more than twenty police in the first half hour and then became interested in other things ... such as the squad of nine commandos in their jungle camouflage, black berets and automatic machine guns in the ready position and hands on the pistol grip. They don't smile, they just walk those even paces and their eyes are restlessly scanning, evaluating, scanning ... I again found them a threatening presence. Sue had a different reaction, being reassured they were there.

Beggars and gypsies were thick on the ground, despite the police quickly moving them on. The gypsy children were at the clipboard scan and whilst Sue fetched morning tea, I watched dozens of people hand over money in support of the deaf/mute orphanage. Between us, Sue and I were approached seven times in two hours and each time, they scan you up and down, looking for signs of money, rings and any valuable a future shake down might reward them with.

We walked down the Champs de Mars, with gardens on either side and snapped the obligatory tourist shot of each of us standing with our new best friend. Single shots had to do, as all of the others there looked too fast for me to catch should they scamper off with my camera.

A combination of bus and shank's pony got us to Musee Rodin and we started with lunch. I know I keep mentioning it but we have found the food in France is so cheap!

Musee Rodin gardens
The three hours which followed were shorter but just as sumptuous as Musee d'Orsay yesterday. Auguset Rodin was a perfectionist yet, his sculptures were of real people, in real poses, doing real things. His eye for detail is what captures the spontaneity in his subjects. Yes, the sinues and muscles and bone structures are unerringly accurate representations but it is the natural appearance of his sculptures which seem to have captured them in a moment in time, like photography.

The gardens are superb and dotted among them are large bronze statues, each with its own narrative. Off to one side is the massive "Gates of Hell", a piece Rodin worked on for 37 years but never finished. His two most famous pieces were designed for this structure but only one remained. "Le Penseur (The Thinker)" sits at the top of the gates, designed to represent Dante himself, pondering his poem "The Inferno", which the overall work was based on.

The Thinker, of course, took on its own life and has been recreated across the world, but the life sized study Rodin made to model what would later go on the gates, stands in bronze on a large cement plinth across the garden.

This small plaster cast of The Kiss
was all I was allowed to photograph
Inside the newest building of the complex, as part of a special exhibition featuring only Rodin's marble sculptures, is the beautiful and incredibly touching "The Kiss". Finally produced in marble in 1898 after earlier versions in bronze, it was considered controversial and portraying lust. Nothing could be further from the truth. It shows lovers caught in an embrace where despite the evident strength in the male's hands and arms, his hand is placed tenderly, gently on her thigh and hip. Her trailing leg drapes over his, a foot rubbing the bridge of his large, powerful foot. The faces are both turned away from the world, obscured to it by each other and toward and into the point of contact. Her hand, behind his neck, has a forefinger rubbing the finger print of her own thumb, in a lovely, wistful touch. If it is at all possible to depict love between two souls which have abandoned themselves to the other because they know such safety that they no longer need to protect themselves because their lover will do that ... if that's possible, then Rodin has achieved it. I will tell my children that if they, like Forrest Gump, know what love is, then it must look like this.

I cried for second consecutive day in the company of such generosity by the artist.

As an aside, it wasn't a work Rodin particularly liked!

The clipboard scam
On the way home, I finally snapped a picture of some Roms (as the French call them) or gypsies. One photo shows kids working the clipboard scam and the second working the argument scam. In the second, always started in crowd, they start a loud argument between two of them, including push and shove and whilst your attention is gained, others in the group lift what ever they can from you. There has been outrage by civil libertarians that the Police in France have been breaking up their camps and moving them on. Recently a large camp was disbanded near Lyon and moves are being made to do the same to one of several camps around Paris. In essence, its a debate much like the refugee questions at home, except these folk have come to take advantage and its starting to impact on the tourist dollar.

Morning off tomorrow and then a river cruise, the Arc de Triumph and a walk down the Champ de Elyse.

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