Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Découvrez Paris! (Part 1)

Salut à tous! 

I haven't blogged for two whole weeks (at the time of the "beginning" of writing this blog post, two more weeks passed now! Ooops? -- update from the future Sasha), and soo much stuff has happened that I need to get on it soon! So my last blog entry only recounted my "improvised" trips around the Marais neighbourhood. Well this time I had even more impromptu adventures! (Oh gosh, sooo many French words are English homonyms! For instance, I just looked up "impromptu" and "to improvise" and they are literally the same in French! Half the time it just works to say an English word with a cool accent or proper conjugation, et voila! Half the time not so much, though...)

After visiting Musée Carnavalet, I felt that I had not yet had a total overdose of museums. So, on Saturday, I went to Musee Rodin. It was a super interesting place, because it is not your regular museum that just has things inside a building. It is a pretty garden with lots of esoteric statues, products of Rodin's slightly neoclassic and psychedelic imagination (the most classic of them being "The Thinker"),  and also a huge collection of prototypes and paintings inside his mansion. Here I learned a lot of sculpting vocabulary and also some interesting things about Rodin from my Paris Rick Steve's guide book. Without it, I would have for sure not had any idea as to what was going on. For instance, I learned that Rodin ditched his 18-year-old student, muse, best friend, and lover for a much older woman. The poor girl, a sculptor herself, made a really touching piece in response.

Artists are crazy. :( Need to say more?!
But besides mourning some episodes of his life, it was also really cool to see the "models" of the sculptures gradually be turned into the sculptures themselves. Initially, each large sculpture was just a little clay model with a bunch of dots that remind me of a rather course mesh. I guess sculptors used GUI's before it was cool. A lot of the things he sculpted are very memorable, even after two weeks. For instance, he liked to make his friend Victor Hugo look very visibly fat, and kind of grotesque: 
Victor Hugo 
He was a bit obsessed with hands!
On the way to Rodin there was a really awesome bakery not far from the Ecole Militaire. Let's just say it is really hard to walk past a bakery in Paris without at least faire du lèche-vitrines(window licking!). After Rodin, I went to a place where I don't actually do much lèche-vitrines, because I am not really into clothes shopping. Galleries Lafayette did amaze me with their grandiose chapel, however! (Just look it up on Google Images, which do a better job than my phone camera!)
The next day, I decided to follow a Parisian lifestyle and go with my MIT friend Danica to Marche de la Bastille, which is considered to be one of the best open air food markets in the city (it really is!). Although we came relatively late for a Sunday morning market, it was bustling with life; there were three rows of closely packed pavilions selling everything from freshest seafood and any sort of raw meats, to delicious crepes and galettes, as well as pastries and just very delcious strawberries. I realized, after going to this market and two other ones in the most recent weekend, that the food here is of very different quality than that of the U.S.. For instance, the strawberries are a good indication; they are much smaller than those in the U.S. and also a bit lighter in color, but their taste is heavenly...it reminds me of wild little strawberries which I pick in my garden or forest in the Ural. Things that actually grow in the ground by themselves, rather than being pumped with hormones. And these strawberries we found here, they are exactly like this. Very sweet, but also slightly sour when you bite into them, giving them an extremely lovely flavor. This same is true of the other fruit/vegetables that are available, especially from the markets. Which, by the way, are a much better deal for fresh produce than supermarkets. And also a lot more fun! :)

After the market, we decided to walk through the Marais region, having last been here for Fête de la Musique in the late afternoon. Interestingly, in this neighbourhood that has preserved its Jewish culture since the beginning of the 20th century (and survived despite WWII), most of the shops and interesting venues are open and bustling on a Sunday.  Afterwards, I learned that this region is also famous for its falafels, which I only tried once in my life and was not left extremely enthusiastic. However, I guess I must absolutely try one here sometime. All of the non-food stores sold very interesting things like unique watches and seriously cool stuff that is probably useless but just cute and ingenius.
A really cool Jewish boulangerie/patisserie!
We walked all the way through Marais and actually found ourselves in front of the Centre Pompidou and the Stravinsky Fountain. Personally I have really cool memories of Centre Pompidou from really random French 80's movies, so I was very nostalgic to give it a try. But before going in, I had to buy tickets to a Vivaldi "Four Seasons" concert in a nearby church, St. Chapelle. On our way to the ticket booth, we stumbled on one of Paris' hidden treasures, a really cute flower market situated on one of the islands, being in which reminded me of exploring a mini jungle. Many of the flowers were quite exotic. (Gosh, this is why I love Europe! Or maybe I just don't go out normally? >.<).
Venus flytraps are being sold here for like 10E. 
Really cute bunnies for sale! 
There were tons and tons of beautiful orchids. 
Finally, after the small flower detour and getting Vivaldi tickets, we got up to Centre Pompidou. Did I mention that Paris is THE city for students, or those under 26? If you are a student/under 26, nearly all museums will be free for you, and the handful of those which aren't will have extremely low "reduit" tarifs. It is just great. When we initially entered the art museum, we were faced with white canvases and caves that lack all form, like this: 

Modern art.
Photo (c) Danica Chang
So we quickly got up a floor and switched to less modern art, seeing some of Picasso, Kandinsky, cubo-fauvinism, and even surrealism (just to make it seem like I know what I am talking about), although it was really hard to find Dali. It is a huge and awesome museum, to which I will most likely come back if I have time. Even if it's just for another one of the escalator rides!
The view from the top level of the escalator!
Photo (c) Danica Chang
Actually, we were quite lucky to have found ourselves inside this cool building with lots of huge pipes, because it started raining cats and dogs just a bit after we entered. Hence, the impromptu visit to the museum!
Cool optics art! Me likes the mirrors!
What's this? Electron oscillations?
WRONG, it's an artsy chair!!
I just love how they sent us MIT kids to Paris, which is just so bustling of arts and gourmet food, and music and architecture, and culture... it is like, "Hey guys, why don't you poke your heads out of the lab, and see what real humanities are like? But actually, be IMMERSED in it!". Because, really, every single walk you take in Paris will lead you to some historical monument, some artistic milestone or architectural world wonder. Can you imagine living in a city like this your entire life? For me, this would be a dream come true. So it baffles me when local students tell me that they have only visited one museum in Paris, the museum of primitive artifacts. (Me: WHAT? You visit one museum, and it's of primitive artifacts?!). It seems to be different for young people who have originally come from another country some years ago; they still do retain the same appreciation for the wonders of the city that has engulfed me as I first truly got a taste of this whole "discover Paris" thing. I have a favorite way of doing this; with total improvisation. It is not about reading tour books, although those do occasionally help. It is about listening to locals about what they think is cool to do on weekends, such as markets or camping, it is about looking at random advertisements in the metro (did you know there is an AQUAPARK in Paris?) and just doing whatever the heck you feel like, even if it includes biking in an amazing countryside on a totally normal Saturday, and seeing a 13th century mill and castle up close. (Oops, SPOILER ALERT!! Pretend you didn't read that.) 

So, after this small detour, let's get back to the regular course of events on this weekend! I quickly rushed to my St. Chapelle concert, leaving the museum a bit early, and getting to the old gothic cathedral right on time. Turns out it was totally worth it; I got two Parisian wonders for the price of one; an amazing violin concert by a virtuoso soloist, as well as the amazing view of the sunset through seven century old stained glass. It cannot get better than that... 

The best view of the stained
glass flower is at sunset :) 

Needless to say, the acoustics were TERRIFIC. 

To be continued... 

1 comment:

  1. I like Rick Steves. Noah is also a fan, though he might not admit it. -Laura