Sunday, 24 February 2008

Where are all the Tours?

I've just spent about an hour searching the web for a day tour to Mont-St-Michel, it's in the Normandy region and is a tiny little island with a massive abbey on the top. It is meant to be the second most visited place in France, after the Eiffel Tower, and yet I can find no tour companies which will do a day trip out there from Bayeux. Either there are no tour companies (hard to believe), or they just haven't grasped the wonders of the internet (probably more likely). Don't they understand what it is like for an English tourist, we don't want to call someone, we have this fear they will only speak French, we just want to be able to read it on the internet and decide for ourselves. Grrrrr! I guess I'll keep searching tomorrow. I have found a few companies which visit the D-Day beaches, but again not as many as I would have expected for such a popular (I would have thought) attraction.

Not so Modern Art in Paris

On Sunday I found a hidden gem in Paris, I thought I had been to all the best places and that the rest of the things in the Lonely Planet guide would be second-rate, still good, but not as good as what had gone before. Man was I proved wrong today! I went out to the Musee Marmottan-Monet, which is in the west of Paris, right near the Bois de Boulogne, a massive park I haven't been to yet, I'm waiting for the leaves to return to the trees. This museum is in the Duke of Valmy's former hunting lodge, so there are massive chandeliers in each room and little statues and tables and stuff. You feel like you are walking through someone's house rather than an art gallery, and yet the paintings are outstanding, a bit of a mixture, but most of the stuff is really good. Unfortunately you couldn't take any photos so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was good. It has the world's largest collection of Monet's works, including the one titled Impression: Sunrise, which apparently gave rise to the term Impressionism. This painting was the only one behind plate glass.

As Monet is one of my favourite painters I really enjoyed this gallery, though they did have a lot of his very impressionist work, just a whole stack of colours rather than any forms at all. They also had a few modern pieces which were also outstanding and then a whole room of illuminated manuscripts, so overall a bit of an eclectic collection, but great none the less.

What was also nice about this gallery was that it was set in a lovely, seemingly nameless, park. I'm not sure who this statue is meant to be of, I thought it was a bit weird what with the crow and the fox, maybe there is some French fairytale/legend I'm not aware of, that wouldn't be surprising.

Here we see that spring is here!! YAH, and before the official start date too, though I think that is only fair seeing as how we had winter temperatures before autumn had officially started. Though now that I say that we are probably going to have 2 weeks of unbelievably bad weather.

After the Musee Marmottan I headed off to the Memorial de la Shoah, which is the Memorial to the Holocaust, in Hebrew Shoah means catastrophe. Again I couldn't take any photos of this place, so I'll just have to try and describe it instead. This place had the most serious security I have ever seen anywhere I have visited. I'm talking 2 doors with only one able to be opened at a time, with electronic locking, two security guards X-raying handbags and a metal detector. I'm not sure why there was so much security, the items on display weren't valuable, they were just historic stuff, and I thought we were meant to all hate the muslims now, not the Jews? But once you are through the completely insane security the memorial is good, it details the Vichy government's part in deporting and exterminating the French Jews. I guess it is just more of the same as the Jewish museum in Berlin, but focusing more on the French actions. At the entrance to the museum there is a wall which has the names of all 76 000 people deported from France inscribed on the stone. It is pretty bi-lingual too, French and English for most of the stuff, so that's always a bonus for me.

Modern Art in Paris

This weekend was a bit of an art weekend, on Saturday I went to the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, long name I know but I suppose they have to compete with the Pompidou Centre, which is the more famous modern art gallery in Paris, and which has a much cooler name. The advantage of the Musee d'Art Moderne is that it is free and there are hardly any people there, actually the thing I really loved was that there was no glass on the paintings, so you could get up real close and see where the artist had applied the paint thickly, you could also see the cracking of the paint in some pieces. It just made the paintings seem more vibrant without the glass to hide them behind. This piece to the left was one of my favourite pieces there.

Whilst the actual Musee d'Art Moderne was pretty cool and also free, I made the mistake of going to what I thought was the Musee, but was actually just an exhibition centre, across the road. I pay my 7 euros and then when I go in I find that it is an exhibition of woman's clothing from the years 1919-1939, not something I am particularly interested in, plus all the labels were exclusively French. The surprising thing was how many people there were in there, I guess in a city as big as Paris there are always hundreds of people interested in each very particular thing. I walked through that exhibition pretty quickly and then felt pretty disappointed by what I thought was the modern art gallery, until I crossed the road and there was the actually gallery, for free! That cheered me up.
Of course a visit to a modern art gallery is not complete without a random room full of telephone directories. This room was also complemented by a room full of children's clothes on dodgy metal shelves.

I then went next door to the Palais Tokyo which is another modern art gallery which has no permanent collection, but shows installation art, I think their unofficial motto is "The weirder the better". When I went the exhibition was called Cellar Door, which is meant to be the most pleasing combination of sounds, according to Tolkien anyway, and who is to argue with the master. But the funny thing is that it's by a French artist, so is Cellar Door as pleasing with a French accent as it supposedly is without one? And wouldn't the French have their own equally pleasing combination of sounds?

Anyway this was one weird-ass installation piece, luckily they gave out a magazine with some notes on it. In the foreword they describe the piece as "an ambitious artistic enterprise..a colossal organsim engendered by an original music score that distends space and time" and it carries on in that same fashion.

These trees are actually coated in gunpowder and then there was also a whole stack of neon tubes on the wall which weren't on. You then read the sign that goes with it and it says the tubes are all filled with propane and would explode it they were plugged in, nice!

The works seemed to give the impression that they should be performed, all the signs had musical scores on them and words to songs, but there never was any performance, I guess that is supposed to mean something too.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


Last weekend I paid a visit to the Orangerie, it is a small glasshouse near the Louvre which is now home to some massive Monet paintings of the waterlillies. There are two rooms which were purpose built, under Monet's instructions, to house these paintings and they really are impressive, covering all four walls in both rooms.

Here are two of the 8 walls with the waterlilly paintings, I certainly wasn't expecting anything so impressive when I went in and I would recommend a visit if you have the time, if only for the two Monet rooms. It has sure made me want to visit Giverny, which was Monet's house with the pond which inspired all these paintings. I might leave that to Spring though when all the flowers should be out.

As well as the two rooms of Monet's there are also a whole stack of other paintings by the impressionists, sure it is no Musee d'Orsay, but it is still impressive none the less.

In following on my series of really ugly children paintings here is another one I saw at the Orangerie, I think the artist was probably going for himself as an adult, painted as a child, at least that is the only excuse I can give for such an ugly kid.

After the Orangerie I went off to Place Vendome, which is just a massive square, the only reason I am including it here is because of the column in the middle. The outside is a 160m long bronze spiral made from 1250 cannons captured by Napoleon from Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The statue at the top of the column is Napoleon as a Roman emperor. That guy really had short man's syndrome, what with all the monuments to himself he had built.

The last picture I want to show is a sculpture at the southern end of the Palais Royal gardens. This sculpture was begun in 1986 but then interrupted by angry Parisians and wasn't completed until 1995 after the Ministry for Culture intervened. You don't want to go messing with angry Parisians, that's for sure! I kind of liked it though, without the sculpture it's just a concrete courtyard afterall.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Spring is Coming!!

In my last post I said that it felt like a never-ending winter, but today it finally felt like spring is on its way, the temperature is getting warmer, I saw one or two flowers on a tree and I actually got home when it was still light (though it was a friday and I did leave a little earlier). The sad thing is that though it feels like spring is coming the day time temperature here is still as cold as it is in Canberra in the absolute depths of winter. These poor Europeans don't even know what they are missing.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


Phew, it's been a while since I last posted, people have probably stopped checking here seeing as how it has been more than a month since I last wrote anything. I had a bit of a break in Australia, which kind of dried up the writing, but now I'm back in the long European winter I suddenly feel the urge to write again. I've just organised a few travels in the next couple of months which I'm pretty excited about. First up is 4 and a half days in Southern Germany, I have to go to Darmstadt (I love that name, so German, or rather the evil school in Harry Potter - Durmstrang) for a workshop so seeing as how work is paying me to get over there I thought I would take a few days off and spend Easter there as well. (For some reason France doesn't take Good Friday as a holiday only Easter Monday, and I always though Good Friday was really important for Christians) At the moment I'm thinking of Heidelberg and Munich, I've heard that Heidelberg was one of the only cities that wasn't completely destroyed in the war (not sure if that is true or not) but I'm looking forward to some traditional German architecture. The number one thing for me at Munich is the Dachau concentration camp, I'm not sure if you can say you are looking forward to seeing a concentration camp but I'm sure keen to visit it. There are a few other things around Munich I wouldn't mind seeing, but I don't want to go giving away my future postings now do I.

The other trip I have planned is to Amsterdam in April, I wouldn't mind seeing Anne Frank's house, I really have a World War II theme going here at the moment, and the canals and that sort of thing. These trips are certainly something to look forward to in what seems like a never ending winter. Apparently in March it rains and is windy all the time, there could possibly be 2 nice weeks in April and then it doesn't start to get warm again until May/June, give me an Australian winter anytime!

Now I just have to organise flights to Barcelona and Corsica, though I might leave those until after my next pay.