Sunday, 30 September 2007

Centre Pompidou

A few weekends ago I went out to the Georges Pompidou Centre, which is apparently the most successful cultural centre in the world, according to the lonely planet guide anyway. I'm not sure how they measure success in terms of cultural centres, number of people through the door, number of cultures under one roof at the same time ?? The main attraction is the Musee National d'Art Moderne it houses, which is France's national collection of art dating from 1905 onwards. Now to be fair to the Pompidou Centre I'm not the biggest fan of modern art, plus I was feeling really sick that day, so perhaps the art displayed is actually better than what I thought.

They did have a temporary exhibit on at the time which was all these weird stuffed animals, there was also one room filled entirely with wool strands hanging from the roof. Generally you associate stuffed animals with childhood and security, but the artist had them set-up to move in strange ways, or they looked just a bit off, like the head was on slightly wrong. That is the kind of modern art I like, where the artist has a good/different idea. I am definitely more a fan of the installation style of modern art than the paintings.

I think sometimes that when you look at modern paintings, you have no real idea if the artist is talented or even if they have a good idea as in some cases it is just a canvas of a single colour. The Pompidou centre is all mainly paintings so for that reason the jury is still out as to whether the Centre is worth a visit. They had some of the older modern art on the top floor, Matisse and that sort of thing, so that is perhaps better than the newer modern art on the lower floor. If you like modern art, pay it a visit, but I think I preferred GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) in Brisbane.

I find it funny when artists try and do science-y stuff as generally they don't really understand it enough. They know the basic principles and think that it is somehow mystical or something. These were two pieces that I really didn't get, the first is just a reproduction of the first page of a journal article in Astrophysical Letters and the other is just a plot of y = x^2. Don't see what is so fantastic about these particular bits of maths/science. Journal articles could never be confused with art, in the best case they are merely boring, in the worst case they are poorly written and the maths is wrong.

I did like this piece of art, it may not have come out great in the photo, but when you see it in the flesh it is made in such a way, with the bits of wire, that your eyes find it really hard to focus. It is quite a strange feeling looking at it. This is definitely the type of modern art I like, something a bit different, where the artist has obviously had a good idea.

The Alpine Garden

While I was visiting the zoo I also had a good look around the Jardin des Plantes, in particular I had a walk through their alpine garden. It's not huge and unfortunately I'm not really up on my alpine plants having never lived above 600m, but there were a surprising number of flowers, especially for so late in the season, it is autumn here now and the leaves are already falling. I took a lot of photos using my macro feature, isn't that what you use when photographing flowers as well as pseudo-arty shots using my cameras colour accent feature.

These are my pseudo-arty shots, I'm not sure how well they will turn out on the computer screen. I'm thinking of getting these three in particular printed up to see what they look like, and decide whether or not I like this feature.

Then we have my macro shots:

There were so many flowers around, the gardeners must plan out which plants they put in, to make sure there are flowers from Spring all the way through to Autumn. Finally there is Puff the Magic Dragon who guards the Jardin des Plantes

The Menagerie

I like zoos and I always try and visit the zoo in whichever city I am visiting. So it was only a matter of time until I ended up back at the Jardin des Plantes and the Menagerie there. The zoo was founded in 1794, but during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, when Paris was under seige, most of the animals were eaten by the starving Parisians. They have replaced the animals now so it wasn't just empty cages. In fact in a lot of the cages it was quite hard to see the animals due to the overgrown plants, either inside or outside the cages. It was a pretty random collection of animals, with a lot of birds, but there were a lot of animals I had never seen before. There weren't any of the "big" animals like lions, tigers and elephants, but I sometimes find those animals a bit boring as mostly they are just lying around.

My favourite animals were the pink flamingos, those are some cool looking birds, I really have to work out how to get my camera to focus on what I want it to though, as I ended up a with a lot of shots with lovely clear wire and with a blurry animal shaped figure in the background.

They had quite a few Australian animals there, wallabies, emus, cassowaries, black swans and green tree frogs. I didn't really bother taking photos of them as I think everyone has seen them before. They had some cool reptile/amphibian houses, with poison dart frogs, they were the coolest frogs I've ever seen as well as tarantulas which are some good looking spiders.

I saw this really sad donkey-type thing there as well. It was way too big to be a normal donkey, plus it had a serious coat going on. The thing really needed a serious groom, I don't think it could see as the whole time I watched it, it didn't move one step.

I think it was some Clydesdale-donkey from Russia and this is what it should look like:
There were also quite a few mountain goat type things in the zoo, with rocks and stuff for them to climb on. But the only goat I actually saw that had climbed up on stuff was a common, run-of-the-mill goat in the children's area:

Hotel des Invalides

Dev and Christine came to Paris on their whirlwind trip around the world and I managed to catch up with them on Sunday. We went to the Hotel des Invalides and the Musee de l'Armee (The War Museum) before they had to head back to Orlean. The Hotel des Invalides was built in the 1670's by Louis 14th to provide housing for about 4000 disabled war veterans from his many battles. It was here that a Parisian mob forced their way in, stole 32 000 guns before heading off to the bastille and the start of the French Revolution.

The big dome here at the front is the aptly named Dome Church, which was built in 1677. In 1989 this dome was re-gilded using 12 kg of gold, it is a pretty big dome. But the real reason why it is famous now is that Napoleon Bonaparte's final remains are now here. They were moved from th island of Saint Helena to Paris in 1840. The fact that it is Napoleon who rests here over any other famous French person just shows you how much the French must really love him. I suppose he did unite Europe under his command, which is not bad work.
Inside the church is his tomb, inside of which are 5 successive coffins, tin, mahogany, two of lead and then ebony. The red stone is a single block of Finnish red porphyry. Even his relatives got some pretty nice tombs, though no-where near as impressive as Napoleon I's

Behind the Dome Church is the Hotel des Invalides proper which has been turned into the Musee de l'Armee and it was one of the best War Museum's I have ever been to, many because it was the first one which actually explained properly what caused the First World War (France and Germany just hated each other and were looking for an excuse). I'm definitely going back there to have a real good look at the First and Second World War exhibit. It is all in French, English and German too, which I thought was pretty good, means I'm not just restricted to looking at the pictures for once.

There are a whole stack of sections to the War Museum, the main one is the first and second world war stuff, but there is also a section on armoury, so there are heaps of weapons and suits of armour. There is also a museum to the French resistance, but I didn't really see much of that one. Another, much stranger, section is the relief map museum. It's all by itself on the very top floor on what appears to be an abandoned wing of the building and you walk into this very dark, cold room. Inside this one room are all these scale models of cities and islands and they were made from 1668 onwards, these then became the royal collection of relief maps. They are pretty boring as it just looks like some warhammer-er person has had way too much time on their hands making their little battlegrounds.

Saturday, 29 September 2007


When Dad was visiting me we took a train trip out to Chartres for the day, it's about an hour to the South-West of Paris. It is a real pretty town, where I had perhaps the best coffee I've had since I've been over here. The real reason to go to Chartres is to see the cathedral, which is one of the best gothic cathedrals in Europe. It was built in 1020, but the Romanesque church was destroyed in a fire in 1194, only one tower and the holy relic (the veil the Virgin Mary was apparently wearing when she gave birth) survived.
The church was rebuilt in just 30 years, resulting in the gothic cathedral which is standing there now. The tower on the left is the "new" gothic tower while the one on the right is the Romanesque tower which survived the fire.

This is the holy relic and is the reason the church was rebuilt as it somehow managed to survive the big fire and therefore must be holy, thus the need for a massive church. Personally I don't know why Mary was wearing a veil when giving birth. I reckon it would be pretty annoying to be wearing a veil and as they didn't have drugs back then I think anything annoying would have been discarded. "Scientists" have apparently dated the veil to the 3rd century AD, so perhaps our calendar system is 3 years out of date? Either that or Mary wasn't wearing this when she gave birth.

The cathedral has some 170 stained glass windows which is meant to be one of the best collections of medieval stained glass in Europe. It is hard to get stained glass windows to come out in photos so you'll just have to go see for yourselves.

While we were there we went up the bell tower, which is the real gothic looking tower of the two and is 112m high. It was up here that you really notice the French idea of personal responsibility. I've seen it at a few other churches, which maybe I've already written about. So you are 112m above the ground and all that is stopping you from falling over is a lowish wall, I mean if someone really pushed you, you could probably fall over (if you were unlucky). If this was Australia there would be a massive fence to protect people from themselves, but here the attitude seems to be more that if you are stupid enough to fall over than there is nothing the French are going to do to stop it.

Chartres also has an "old town" down by the river where houses date from the 16th century, this part of town is also really pretty. Overall it was a very relaxing day spent wandering around the town.
This is Dad in front of one of the old houses.

We also went to the Musee des Beaux-Arts which is in the former Bishop's Palace. All the Musee des Beaux-Arts I have visited have been in former bishop's residences, I'm not sure why that is. It makes the museum experience a little strange as you really feel like you are just wandering around someone's house. The Musee had a real random collection of stuff, a few musical instruments, various armour and also stuff from the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. The best thing there was this children's exhibit where someone had done famous paintings as lego people and then photographed them. There was one of the hand of God (I think) is where a hand is stretching out of the clouds and there is a little lego man stretching up to reach him, and they both have those funny lego hands which are just C's.

Below is the "labyrinth" recreated in the garden behind the Musee des Beaux-Arts. The real labyrinth is inside the cathedral and was built in the 13th century and is a feature of a lot of medieval churches. As a penance people would follow the path around the circle on their knees. The one in the Chartres cathedral is 262m long and the path took at least an hour to complete, that's some serious penance!

On the left is the back of the Chartres cathedral from the garden of the Musee des Beaux-Arts and on the right is the cathedral towering over the old town, down by the river Eure.

Friday, 28 September 2007

6 Weeks of Holidays

I love the French public service! They get 9 weeks of holidays a year, but I didn't think I would be able to take that much, thinking that academics are crazy workaholics all over the world and that surely people here don't take 9 weeks in a year. But I spoke to the administration and my boss and they are happy for me to take 6 weeks over Christmas. So I'm coming home on the 20th of December and I don't leave again until the 3rd of February. Seriously if you can get a job with the French public service, take it!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A day of French firsts

I saw a squirrel today!! and it was a proper red squirrel, not one of those fat, American grey squirrels which have been out-competing the native reds. They are so awesome (the red squirrels I mean) and so much cuter than our mangy possums, I don't know how foreigners can think possums are cute when their possum-substitutes are squirrels. So that was a first for me, I have to buy a bag of nuts so I can get them to stay still for long enough to take a picture. I've only seen them once though, so I might not see them again.

My other French first was a gym class, actually I've never been to a gym class before anywhere, so it wasn't just a French first. It was a pretty fun class, I took the spin class, which is where you are on a bike. The bikes are much more like proper bikes when compared to the cardio-bikes you get in gyms. They take a bit of getting used to though, the spin bike, because they have no free-wheel on them, if the wheels are spinning you have to be pedalling. I nearly stacked it during the class, I'd got a bit of speed up and then wanted a bit of a break so stopped pedalling, thankfully I was sitting down because otherwise I think I may have fallen off. That would not be good, falling off a stationary bike in the middle of a packed spin class.

Of course the class was all in French, but I could follow a surprising amount, mainly because the gym instructor was really big on gestures. Plus he didn't say too many words, just "resistance" with a French accent (meaning increase the resistance) and "attak". I just increased the resistance whenever he did and got out of the saddle when everyone else did. There was one guy in the class who was seriously going off! He was an older guy too, maybe late 40's, all decked out in his cycling gear, clapping along to the music, whistling and yelling "allez" whenever the resistance was increased. Some people really like their spin classes. He certainly made it more amusing.

Saturday, 15 September 2007


A strange thing I have noticed in the French supermarkets is their versions of museli, now when I think of museli I think, generally, of a health food, you know oats, nuts some dried fruit, if you like a bit of extra fat you can get a toasted version, but on the whole fairly healthy. Not in France though, I think the whole breakfast cereal thing confuses them a bit, I mean they aren't a nation known for their breakfasts, in fact I think a lot of French people just have a cigarette and a cup of black coffee for breakfast, not like the English, they really know how to do breakfast! But anyway I like museli and so I've been checking out the different options and there are a surprising number which come with chocolate, no fruit or nuts, just rolled oats and chocolate. In fact I think there are more varieties with chocolate than without. I might have to try a box, it's just I don't think I'll be able to finish a whole box, but maybe as a dessert I could give it a go?

The Louvre Part II

On Reanna's last day here in Paris she decided she was going to do the Louvre, and I mean the whole Louvre! Which is an impressive goal, but what was even more impressive was that she actually achieved it, I think she might have been a little tired-out by the end. My limit at the Louvre is about 3 hours, maybe a little longer if I'm feeling tough, so it is lucky I have a whole year here as it may take me that long to see everything. On this visit I stuck to the Sully gallery, which is the smallest gallery of them all, and also features a lot of sculptures. This means I have saved the biggest, and the whole with the most paintings for last, I think that last gallery will probably take 2 trips. I didn't like this gallery as much as the first one I went to, the Richelieu, but it was still pretty good. The Egyptian stuff they had in this gallery was really awesome. It really makes me want to go and visit Egypt and the Cairo Museum, which must be full of this stuff.

They have the supposed famous art works noted on the information map and one of them was the Statue of Ain Ghazal, which I of course took a photo of, it didn't look like much though, but when you find out it was made sometime between 7000-5000BC, I guess you have to give the artist some credit :)

There is also the Venus de Milo in this gallery, which is really a nice statue. I also like the Capital of Apadana, but what is perhaps even more impressive is that the building this column came from had about 100 other columns exactly like it.

Here is some more of the Egyptian stuff, including one of the Sphinxes they have there as well as a full-blown mummy, complete with internal organ jars!

The other photos I took are of things I found amusing there, I like the statue of the guy disembowling a deer, which he had already skinned, gruesome! Then there is the painting of a monkey painting, this was actually the second painting I saw like this, I'm not sure if this was some particularly period or if the artists were making some sort of comment on their profession?

This next painting I found pretty funny as I'm not sure what a lion is doing wandering around the streets and how he managed to get up to a nursing mother without her noticing, also the pose of the baby is classic! And I just thought the horses in this last painting looked a bit weird, I'm sure I've never seen horses look like that, they look like they are flying!

A Tale of Two Tours (or Towers)

When Reanna was visiting me we had a day of very tall buildings. First we went to Tour Montparnasse, which is this massive, really ugly, building to the south of Paris. The building is 210m tall and the elevator takes only 38 seconds to get to the top floor. The view from the top is the best in Paris, in my opinion, mainly because you can't see this really ugly building when you are standing on it, and you can also get some great shots of the Eiffel Tower. It's pretty expensive, at 9.50 euros, but if you want a great view of Paris it is definitely worth it.

After that building we went to the Paris classic, the Eiffel tower and had a bit of fun with that, there isn't much to say about these two buildings so instead I'll just show you some pics of the different views you get at the top.

Views of the Eiffel Tower from the top of Tour Montparnasse

Hotel des Invalides from the Tour Montparnasse, this is where Napoleon's tomb is, just shows you how much the French love Napoleon.

View from the Eiffel tower, that really tall black building is the Tour Montparnasse, it really does stand out, as it doesn't match the rest of the buildings in Paris at all!

The scary, machine gun wielding police at the base of the Eiffel tower. I'm not sure what the machine guns are for, as I can't think of any instance when it would be acceptable for the police to open fire on anyone with them, can you imagine the number of bystanders who would be hit?

Reanna and I and the Eiffel Tower

The photo which I reckon nearly all proper tourists take!

Natural History Museum

When Dad was visiting me I had a day off one day so we decided to go out to the Paris Natural History Museum. It is set in some really pretty gardens, the jardin des plantes, which is the botanical gardens, and the museum itself was pretty good, I reckon it would have been an awesome museum, if I spoke French. Even without French it was pretty good. They had all these stuffed animals which weren't behind glasses cases, but just set up on the floor so you could get up really close to them, even touch them if you wanted to, but you're not meant to. I'm going to have to back there though to check out the zoo and the garden properly, as there is meant to be a winter garden and also there was a massive greenhouse which was under renovation. When we were there they had a temporary exhibit on insects, mainly flies, which was awesome, even if you didn't speak French, heaps of videos and pictures so you didn't need to be able to read.
The natural history museum set in a small part of the botanical gardens

Some of the stuffed animals set up, with no glass between you and the animals


When Reanna was here we spent a day out at Montmarte, which is a really nice area, full of tourists, but if you get just a little bit away from the church there are all these cool little streets, and it really does feel like you are in a separate city from Paris. We started off with the Sacre Coeur or Sacred Heart church, which is the one on top of the hill and because Paris is so flat, you can see it from everywhere. This church was built after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, which the French lost, to remember the dead. We went up the 237 stairs to the top of the dome and on a clear day you are meant to be able to see for 30 kms, but the day we went it was unfortunately pretty smoggy so the view wasn't nearly that good. The stairs on the way up smelled a lot like pee, I don't know why, and whether it was actually pee, I can't really understand why people would feel the need to pee on church stairs? The inside of the church is pretty impressive with a really awesome mosaic of Jesus above the altar. Unfortunately I couldn't take a photo of it, as you aren't really allowed to inside the church. I always feel a bit bad taking flash photos in churches, especially when there are people who seem to be praying.

After Sacre Coeur we went to the Dali museum which was full of Dali's sketches and weird sculptures, that was pretty cool to see the bizarro Dali stuff. I particularly liked the photos of Dali and his moustache in various poses along with his responses to various questions, which you will have to go see for yourself as I didn't take any photos of them, the only one of have was taken by Reanna.

After Dali we went to the sex museum, actually it was called the Musee de l'Erotisme, but really it was a sex museum. There was "art" from Africa and Asia which I'm sure you can all imagine, as well as silent, black and white, 1920's porn films running on TV's. It was all a bit weird, and here I really noticed France's different attitude to sex and stuff from our straight-laced English background. I think that if this museum was in Australia there would definitely be an over 18s age limit. Not here, whilst we were inside what I think were a Spanish couple came in with their two teenage sons, I felt a bit strange being in the same room as them, but they really didn't seem to care. These Europeans are obviously much more free than us English speakers.

On the same street as the museum, almost next door, is the Moulin Rouge which I have to go to whilst I'm here. It is really expensive and apparently the only other people in there are other tourists, but I reckon it would be fun. In the day time the windmill looked pretty fake and a bit tacky, but us tourists love that sort of stuff!

The Sacre Coeur and the view from the top of the dome

The church in the background with Reanna and the little streets of Montmarte

Dali being strange along with one of his sculptures

The Mae West lips sofa and me walking into the Musee de l'erotisme

The tacky windmill on top of the Moulin Rouge