Tag Archives: paris

The best little museum in Paris

Paris is a city of museums and galleries — the Louvre, d’Orsay, l’Orangerie, Cluny, la Crypte archéologique beneath Notre Dame, Carnavalet, Marmotan Monet, du quai Branly, Rodin, Invalides, Centre Georges Pompidou, and so forth. Last Saturday I visited what I think may be the best little museum here (and it’s free!!), the Bibliotheque nationale de France’s (BnF) collection of ‘Monnaies, médailles et antiques’ — coins, medallions, and … antiquities?

Now, you may think a museum that bills itself as a coin museum would be pretty lame. If you think thus, you’re clearly not that into numismatics and haven’t visited the Museum on the Mound in Edinburgh. I have two things to say to you — 1. coins can be cool; 2. this museum isn’t only coins. It’s not even mostly coins. Or medallions. Mostly, antiques (antiquities??).

At heart, this little two-floor museum is the BnF’s collection of the above items, on display for the public to view for free, no library card necessary!! (I have such a library card, but that’s beside the point.) It’s in the old library site, ‘Site Richelieu’, 5 Rue Vivienne, through the right entrance, and then up the big, marble staircase.

I went expecting a bunch of small but awesome items, and I wasn’t disappointed.

By small, I mean that the largest item, besides a headless statue torso, was a Mesopotamian stele with cuneiform on it — about three feet high. And a few statue heads. And a beautiful Persian sword. But most of the artefacts were small and most of the space was devoted to these small objects.

The first small items I enjoyed seeing were Early Modern, including a medallion from some French King or other (they’re all Louis or Charles, anyway), and cameos of Reine Elizabeth Iere d’Angleterre and Olivier Cromwell. Didn’t expect those – certainly not the latter!

Elisabeth Iere, Reine d'AngleterreThose were not the most exciting cameos, mind you. Throughout the museum, I found a wondrous array of cameos of Roman emperors and family as well as of mythological figures. This was excellent. I could have played ‘Guess the Roman Emperor’ (extolled by me here) if I’d wanted. I didn’t, but I still delighted in them, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Trajan, (amongst others) and a family portrait including, of all people, Geta!*

A cabinet of cameosHere’s the cameo with Caracalla and Geta:

Caracalla and Geta!The best cameo was this one of Augustus (the mounting is Early Modern):

Beautiful Cameo of AugustusI loved the cameos, I really did. But we should move on. Because there was other amazing stuff.

Like the throne of the Merovingian King Dagobert I (603-639). If it’s not his, it is at least seventh-century from the right part of the world.

Not my photo; my photo is blurry.

Or an eleventh-century ivory chess set, called ‘Charlemagne’s chess set.’

Mediaeval chessman

Mediaeval chess!Or a large number of consular diptychs, such as this one:

Consular Diptych of Fl. Anatasius Probus

Consular Diptych of Fl. Anatasius Probus

 And the other ivory diptychs, to boot.

Mid-14th-century diptych

Gothic diptych from the mid-1300s

There was also a variety of other Late Antique stuff, including things from the fifth century, such as these medallions of the Emperor Honorius (r. Western Empire 395-423) and his sister, Galla Placidia (392-450; mother of Valentinian III):

Medallions of Honorius and Galla PlacidiaThis pleases me greatly, given that sometimes those centuries (the fifth in particular) feel a bit neglected in the world of museums. But not here. There were grave goods from the Merovingian King Childeric (d. 481)!

Sword hilt of Childeric

Childeric’s sword hilt

Decorations from the Sheath of Childeric

Decorations from the Sheath of Childeric

Oh, and some coins.

Coin of Valentinian III

Coin of Valentinian III (r. Western Empire 423-455)

Coin of Theodosius II

Coin of Theodosius II (r. Eastern Empire 408-450)

Coins from Romulus Augustulus, last Roman Emperor

Coins from Romulus Augustulus, last western Roman Emperor (deposed 476)

I recommend you visit if you’re ever in Paris, take in small objects, including Mesopotamian, Pharaonic Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Late Antique, Early Mediaeval, Central Mediaeval, and Early Modern ones. Small, beautiful, delicately-carved exquisite objects populate the two small floors of this museum. Worth seeing.

*Who is Geta? Geta is a short-lived emperor of the late-second/early-third century, brother to the Emperor Caracalla who had his younger brother executed and then pronounced a damnatio memoriae on the poor fellow. As a result, few portraits survive (although there is one in the Louvre), and there is a famous painting where Geta’s head has been blotted out:

A happy family

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Les Parisiens

Before I tell you about my week in London and other adventures/thoughts that have transpired since leaving Paris, allow me one final post about Paris — about les Parisiens.

The people of Paris did not live up to their reputation at all.

You know this reputation — they are rude, they swear at you, they refuse to speak in French to you because your French is terrible, the ignore you, they may even yell at you to show their affection.

I found, rather, the Parisians (or, I suppose, provincials in Paris?) were very sympa et gentils. They smiled. They answered me. They spoke in French. One on occasion, I told a Frenchman, ‘Pardon, mon francais n’est pas tres bien.‘ (No accents — too hard to type ’em.) He spoke more slowly, and told me about his plan to organise a graffiti art camp for kids. Cool idea.

I admit that one of the employees at the Bibliotheque nationale would never repeat things when I said, ‘Pardon?‘ He would just shake his head and then get angry when I didn’t do what he wanted. But I think he was just a jerk, regardless of his Frenchness. Most were much more pleasant than he.

Indeed, people would help me with my French. At a restaurant, I say, ‘To go — a emporter?’ A smile, ‘Oui, a emporter.’ This sort of genial assistance from cafe employees was common. It helped me get by, bien sur.

I do not know the source of this. More provincials in Paris? The world adjusting to the reality of foreigners of every stripe in every major western city? An undeserved reputation?

All I know is, I’m glad for it, and hope to visit Paris again.

Ancient Things found in Paris

Me at the Roman Baths

In Paris, I have seen Roman Baths in the Musée du Moyen-Age and some remains of the Roman wall and some of a hypocaust system on Ile-de-la-Cité beneath the Parvis de Notre-Dame.

But the Musée du Louvre is one of the best places for the Classicist in Paris.

This morning I saw a bunch of paintings (there was some wee pic of a lady called the Mona Lisa, but whatev), and then, besides the Victory of Samothrace, I observed with some enjoyment a bunch of Greek vases and some Cypriot artefacts, ending the morning with the quickest run through an Egyptian exhibit in my life.* Then I dined.

The Victory of Samothrace

Following lunch, I went off to visit the rest of the Greco-Roman antiquities at the Musée du Louvre. I saw a very lovley Etruscan funerary statue of a couple, then a variety of other interesting things.

But things got really exciting for me when I wandered into a gallery and saw the head of a woman from a three-quarter view from behind. There she was, with that bun at the lower back of her head as well as the distinctive pouff of hair at the front. The Empress Livia (58 BC – AD 29), wife of Augustus (63 BC – AD 14). I danced over, and proclaimed, ‘Yes!’ quietly as I surveyed the sign.

Empress Livia (d. AD 29), wife of Emperor Augustus

Emperor Augustus (d. AD 14)

Then I danced over to a statue of … yes, Augustus! (Fist-pump!) Plus three Augustus heads! This was an Early Imperial treasure trove! Smiling with glee, I made my way to the start of this particular gallery of Roman art. Ah, yes, a Late Republican head. You can tell, the realism and severity reflect the uncertainty of the times.

Severe Late Republican Head (c. 50 BC)

Like a child, I surveyed the art in this room. And … what’s this? The Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus? You don’t say! How exciting!

‘Altar’ of ‘Domitius Ahenobarbus’ (late 2nd c. BC)

Mars (detail from Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus)

Detail of the cow for sacrifice (Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus)

I was also quite smitten by the examples of Roman wall painting. Very nice. Especially the fairy-eared, winged fellow. Looks like what C S Lewis dubbed the longaevi in his book The Discarded Image.

A longaevus? (from a villa near Pompeii)

Roman portraiture is so vivid, so real. I felt like I was looking at Agrippa himself (right-hand man of Augustus, 63 – 12 BC). I mean, pallid and bodiless. But, still. Agrippa. The man himself.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63 -12 BC)

And then that heroic nude of Marcellus.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus, nephew and son-in-law of Augustus (42 -23 BC)

Also … indeed! Indeed! The Ara Pacis! How wonderful! I mean, a fragment. But, still! Look at the relief carving! Look at the folds of that drapery! The skill, the essence of the moment!

Ara Pacis Augustae (13-9 BC)

Indeed, the skill of the ancients at drapery is one of the things that most caught my eye today, as in this statue of Empress Messalina:

Empress Valeria Messalina (AD 17-48), third wife of Emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54), and their son Britannicus (AD 41-55)

Or cute, little Nero:

Nero (AD 37-68), c. AD 50

Not that statuary is all that those Romans were good at. No, indeed. There was also a mosaic:

The Judgement of Paris, from Antioch c. AD 115-150

Continuing along, after a lovely double-faced stele with relief carvings from the cult of Mithras, I happily identified Marcus Aurelius (fist-pump, ‘Yes!’), and was enraptured by the luscious locks of Lucius Verus.

I even saw the head of a flamen. That’s right.

A flamen, an ancient Roman priest, c. AD 250-265

And then I giggled with glee upon seeing my fifth-century imperial friends, Theodosius II and Leo I. Good seeing you, guys. Great, in fact.

(Eastern) Roman Emperor Theodosius II (r. AD 408-450)

(Eastern) Roman Emperor Leo I (r. AD 457-474)

I continued on to have many grand adventures amongst the Greek statuary, including the mob that continually throngs the Venus de Milo — with the excitement of a lady who actually stepped over the barrier and laid a hand upon the statue for a photo! AS IF! She got yelled at and merrily stepped out.

The Venus de Milo (c. 130 – 100 BC); Look at that drapery!

I am also fond of the less famous Venus of Arles, by the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles (370-330 BC)

‘Vieux Pecheur’ (aka Seneca Dying), 2nd century AD

There were other Roman statues I enjoyed, such as Sénèque Mourant and one of Trajan that stands within the tradition of the Prima Porta Augustus. And a lovely porphyra Minerva. Although things get blurred — is that Greek or Roman?

As I surveyed the various Graeco-Roman antiquities on display in the Louvre, I was a bit miffed at how many people breezed by. As though, if it’s not the Victory of Samothrace or Venus de Milo, who cares about ancient art? I mean — part of the Ara Pacis! Trajan in your face! Livia, identifiable across the room!

But as I ran out of steam and entered rooms I knew less about, containing paintings/artefacts I enjoyed less than the Roman world, I started breezing through. No doubt a Rubens enthusiast would have shaken her head or an expert on Van Dyck would have told me that King Charles I wasn’t the only thing worth noting in that room.

But there is too much, I only have my own specialised knowledge. Yet this serves as a reminder that my knowledge increases my love of the art — and the art makes the world I have studied that much more real.

*I have seen Egyptian exhibits at the Glenbow, the ROM, in Egypt, in Milan, in Scotland, and at the Ashmolean Museum. Not counting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, until my most recent visit to the Ashmolean, there was rarely anything new to say.

A Few Joys of Paris

If, perhaps, you’ve only dipped into the Paris posts for The Metro of Doom, Adventures in Tea, and The Heat or not viewed my Flickr photostream, you may think I’m not enjoying my August in the capital of France. Such would be a misconception built around how easy it is to write wry, dramatic blog posts about the lesser things in life.

While I do not enjoy the Métro and probably never will — I dislike the heat (as you know, gentle reader) as well as crowds — there are many parts of Paris life that I have enjoyed, such as the aforeposted Galerie Mazarine and la Salle Ovale, downstairs in another wing of the same site of the Bibliotheque nationale, or the Gothic churches, not only the aforeposted St Denis and Notre Dame but also St Séverin and Ste Clotilde.

The cafés, although expensive, are a treat of Frenchness. You can sit yourself down with a 4 euro cup of coffee and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People et vous vous amusez. For hours. On that one cup of coffee. But I haven’t spent too much time or money at the cafés, due not to lack of desire but lack of time; I am here for French class in the mornings, research in the afternoons and braindeath in the evenings.

Therefore, I more commonly frequent les boulangeries de Paris. A boulangerie is a bakery. All of them sell bread, primarily baguettes, and most also include patisserie (pastry) and viennoiserie (crossaints, pains au chocolat, etc). I have tended to slip either into my neighbourhood artisan boulangerie for a baguette/pain au chocolat/pain suisse or into a location of the chain Paul for the same.

My first experience of Paul was with my fellow Edinburghers shortly after arriving here. Out of zeal for the name of the thing, I purchased une baguette Charlemagne. It was still hot, and as I enjoyed my steaming bread, I imagined the Holy Roman Emperor clad in eighth-century garb with a long, skinny baguette in hand. It’s a jolly image, one that stays in my fecund brain each time I order a baguette Charlemagne.

Another aspect of daily life I quite enjoy in Paris is the architecture. A simple block of flats that in some cities I know would be dressed stone/concrete straight and flat all the way up will in Paris have a few frills and windowboxes. Between this reality and the Gothic churches dotting the place, Paris is visually pleasing. As I walk around, I need only look up to find something to delight the eye and warm the heart in the deadening August heat that leaves my heat cold and misanthropic.

Music on the Métro makes it more bearable. There’s no guarantee you’ll get music, of course. And most of the time I ride the Métro, there is barely room to stand as we sweat against one another through the subterranean world beneath the city. Nonetheless, one of my first nights in Paris a very happy-looking woman with an accordion got into the train and began playing les chansons traditionelles for us. It was great! I gave her some change. This happy occurance has transpired a few more times for me, and it always makes me smile. Ethan claims to have encountered a jazz ensemble on the Métro. It certainly beats the beggars. (I still don’t like the Métro. Maybe if it had as many seats as the Toronto Subway…)

Besides the sites, parks, and museums, besides some good times with my fellow Edinburghers and classmates, these are a few of the notable things that have made Paris a lovely place to be.

Paris: The Heat (la chaleur)

Tour Clovis against the stark blue of the merciless sky

The other night, as I lay in bed sweating, I reminded myself of those people I knew who spent time in Kashmir. They would get up in the middle night and take cold showers in their pyjamas then lie in bed with the fan on to cool down as the clothing dried off. I reminded myself that the heat in Cyprus was worse (comme un four), that in Toronto both the heat and the humidity were worse. That I had, therefore, lived and slept through worse.

However, when you are hot and cranky, reminding yourself that elsewhere or othertime there is more suffering of the same kind to a degree worse than at present doesn’t really do you any good. It does not suddenly cool you down. You still have a mass of sweaty, curly locks on your pillow. You can still feel your sticky limbs every time you move. You can still feel the closeness of the air.

On Saturday in Paris, it was very hot. Il faisait chaud comme l’enfer. The sun was beating down all day with nary a cloud in the sky. Theoretically, this is the sort of day that people dream about. Ah, ben oui, il fait beau!

Ben non!

Notre Dame in Saturday’s clear sky

I didn’t check how hot Saturday got. All I know is I think I sunburned my lips. The water in my water bottle was warmer than the still-warm-enough-to-drink tea from near the bottom of a pot. My arms, slathered in sunscreen, were glowing red. Sure, I saw the Tour Clovis (if that is Merovingian, they discovered Gothic before 511!), the Panthéon, the Crypte Archéologique beneath the square in front of Notre Dame and some late antique ruins and artifacts, and a second visit to Notre Dame. And I ate gyros (Thelo ena gyro, parakalo. Kotopoulo. Kypriaki — except the staff were Sri Lankan and they only had the ‘small’ Elliniki size).

Sure. But it was hot. Ethan, I understand, looked like death. White as a sheet.

Sunday afternoon it reached 37 by 14:00 and 38 several hours after that. I know those of my audience who dwell in, say, Cyprus or Toronto will say, ‘Bah! That is nothing!’ or possibly laugh at me and mutter in Latvian. But I have spent the past two years in Scotland.

And this year in Scotland, we had a mild winter that I think may have stopped a few weeks ago. Cloudy. Rainy. Rarely warmer than 18. A stiff breeze from the North Sea cutting through everything in Edinburgh. A bit monotonous after a few months.

But at least you can put on another sweater or scarf or a heavier coat or gloves or something.

And here’s my problem with the heat. Here’s why, while I no doubt complain about the weather at times, I complain almost incessantly about the heat. Not only is it sticky, slick, sweaty, uncomfortable, and inescapable in most places I’ve lived (I’m sweating right now!), you can only get so naked.

That’s right.

As I said, you can always put on another sweater. But you can’t take off another layer of clothing. Eventually you will be naked. And thus, you will either be indecent for public display or still hot, sticky, and gross if you opt to stay at home.

Thankfully, some guy a hundred years ago invented air conditioning. The people of Toronto and Cyprus understand this concept. You cool down the air so that people can dress and feel normal. Suddenly, Matthew stops complaining. He might even smile.

Paris. Ah, Paris. I hear that the shopping malls are air-conditioned. And Starbucks. And the cinéma. But pretty much nowhere else. Rumour has it that the cafés avec les salles ‘climatisées’ never have the heat turned up enough.

So I am left a sweaty, grumpy monkey.

You just can’t please me. (But at least there is une brise right now and the temperature has been dropping the past few days.)

Outside (au-dehors)

Sometimes, despite the fact that you don’t feel well, thoughts start tumbling over one another when you can’t sleep. Sleep becomes impossible. Blogging ensues …

Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Not my photo; once I have one, it’ll be on Flickr

A recent Facebook exchange included me mentioning that I had gone running (au Parc des Buttes Chaumont). The response to the running was, ‘why in the world were you running?!?!? were you being chased?’

Me:I was running to keep from becoming too fat. The French verb for ‘to get fatter’ is ‘grossir’. Je ne veux pas grossir.

E: ah, let it happen. become a gourmand!!

Me: The trouble with becoming a gourmand is that I don’t really want to die of a heart attack or anything like that.

E: have you ever seen a dead sasquatch. i haven’t. neither have the hundreds of quatch hunters out there. sasquatches don’t die. eat that pastry.

For the above to make sense, note well that I am a sasquatch. ‘Quatch’ for short. We proceeded to discuss baby pigeons, which I have seen where I run in Edinburgh. But that’s a different, yet related, story.

In my current way of living, I primarily go outside for two reasons: 1. Travel and 2. Fear of a Heart Attack Makes Me Run.

And I don’t really run that often, although the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a good choice for it, as is the Union Canal back in Edinburgh.

This lack of outside is in contrast with when I was a child.

Childhood summers and weekends and Easter breaks were largely lived out of doors. For seven years, we lived on a property with 12 acres. We Hoskin children would vanish into the woods or swamp or even just the backyard for hours on end. There, we would fight monsters and each other, hunt frogs, construct a mini-golf course, construct forts, chase the donkey, wander aimlessly, play badminton as well as the dangerous excursions into lawn darts.

There was this meadow that over the years was slowly converting itself into forest, having formerly been pasture. With naught but children about to keep things under control, saplings and small bushes soon arose in the midst of the grass and cowpies that greeted us upon arrival. Jonathan invented a game whereby this was some sort of enchanted meadow, and we had to cross without touching any bushes, saplings, or thistles (thistles so big, so bad, so prickly they could beat you up). If so, I don’t really know what happened. You probably died; that’s how these things went. The bad guy, of course, was on the other side. And we would vanquish him.

Or I would ride my bike to Aaron’s place. I remember Aaron, Kiaran, and I went to this dam they had made once, on a farmer’s canal. It was very cool, and minnows could get caught in it. My memory tells me that the water was very clear. Also, we would go gopher hunting. I killed nothing. Aaron’s cat would eat our killings.

Or I would ride my bike into town. With Anthony, I would get up to all sorts of shenanigans in his back yard. Or wander around. Wander to Red Basket for slushes ($1 including GST). With Will and the other Ferreys, there would be lots of out-of-doors activity. The sandbox. Riding bikes around. Going to ‘Christopher’s Park’ or ‘The Dentist Office Playground’, or their grandma’s (where there was a pretty sweet willow tree). In the spring, when the run-off occurred, there would ensue walnut-shell boat races in the gutters — the sort of thing children raised in the foothills do.

We would go to the lake, as a family or with friends. I was part of the canoe club. Sometimes, we would take a drive into the more wilderness bits of the country and go for a hike. We would go camping in the summer.

I have always been bookish, but I also used to spend a lot of time out of doors. Now, I run maybe twice a week. In Edinburgh, I walk to New College, climbing the steps by the Castle. In Paris, I walk to the Métro.

Where is the adventure? Where is the wild? I think the wild is here in these urban settings, their blocks of flats on all sides, the shops on the ground floor. There are the parks, the canals, the rivers, the cemeteries. There are the trains that take you beyond the city, to a wilderness less tame.

I should avail myself of these. Reading Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics is not the way to draw nigh to the natural. Getting my nose out of a book on occasion is …

Adventures in Tea

Living in Scotland, a person gets used to having a variety of drinkable tea available at the supermarket as well as affordable tea from specialtea shops. And, having grown up in Canada, it is a similar situation there, although our tea-drinking culture is not as strong as the Scots’.

Well, such is not the case in Paris.

Once I had moved into my own, wee studio apartment, I went to the Monoprix a few minutes away to do my grocery shopping. There, I purchased 200 g of Lipton’s loose leaf Earl Grey (not Early Grey, contrary to what I posted on Facebook). That evening, I decided to relax with a nice cup of tea.

That tastes like soap.

How disappointing! To sit down with a nice, warm cup of Earl Grey, only to find that it tastes like a bath product. I later discovered the problem — the ingredients list a mysterious item ‘bergamot flavouring’. Thus, in the factory, they sprayed the tea leaves with something meant to give the tea the flavour of bergamot. Ick.

I am not the only person to have had tea woes in Paris, though. My friend Catherine purchased the store brand tea at Carrefour. With milk in it, this tea tastes like warm milk. Without milk, it tastes like hot water. Fantastic.

I had, however, been informed of Kusmi Tea before coming here. Kusmi is Russian aristocrat tea that costs 12 euros per tin. Nonetheless, given the state of affairs at the supermarkets, it was decided to splurge on this tea! As a souvenir, of sorts.

So, after French class one afternoon and before my day’s excursion to the Bibliotheque nationale, we found a Kusmi shop in the 6e. I purchased 150 g of Anastasia tea. It is a blend of Earl Grey, lemon and orange blossom. The flavouring of the tea is delicately done, so that it still tastes like tea, just with citrus and bergamot. The way un thé parfumé should taste.

Not like soap, in other words.

On Saturday, the Edinburghers wandered our way to the original shop of Parisian tea merchants Mariage Frères. They have over 350 varieties of tea in the shop, lining the walls in large, black cylinders of awesome.

I smelled a good number of the teas, both scented and black. I believe they will pass muster, but I am waiting till Jennie is here, and she can choose a fancy tea of her own. Catherine, however, bought a Darjeeling. It smelled good; I imagine it tastes good as well.

Later, we discovered that there is another shop in the 6e much closer to Ethan’s stomping grounds. That’s the way it goes. You traipse across the city and through a street lined with sex shops only to learn that you could have stayed closer to home to buy the same thing.

The question that has been bothering me about the supermarket teas — be they Lipton (!!) or store brand — is why on earth they are so bad. The British know how to blend a good tea. They are probably the famous people on earth for drinking tea. Why not import good, British blends? The British are perfectly capable of importing good, French wines.

It was Julia who pointed out the difference — the French don’t really drink tea, whereas the British do drink wine. Therefore, the market for high quality teas is much smaller here. The French — despite the Mariage Frères book L’Art Français du Thé — do not drink tea, so it matters less the quality thereof.

Nonetheless, we have access to nice teas, even if pricy! I am drinking my Anastasia Tea right now and liking it!

To close, a quotation from Henri Mariage, co-founder of Mariage Frères: Un parfum d’aventure et de poésie s’évade à l’infini de chaque tasse de thé.

The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea.