Little Paris “Babies”
Every year, about mid March, Paris experiences a little blip in the usual cold, gray weather, turning up sunny and warm and fooling us all into thinking spring is on the way. Not!
We know better, but we can enjoy the two or three days of delight without putting away our winter garb so fast…as no doubt, we will need it, so don’t be so quick to think otherwise. This is exactly what happened this past week, and yes, we all came out to bask in the sunshine, don our lightest jackets and revel in that little glimmer of hope…at least for two whole days.
For those of you who want to hear about the Wednesday evening visit to the Vermeer exhibit at Le Louvre, “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting,” “after the fact,” I will tell you that an angel must have been watching out for me that day who wanted me to see it without a hitch.
I went when the museum is open in the evening with friends who both had tickets, but me with a press pass that normally works to get me in free and often at the head of the line. Not this time. No matter how much I tried, no matter what desk I went to, no one was letting me in without an advance reservation, and tickets were totally sold out. They were making no exceptions. That left me to wait stranded while one of my friends was already inside waiting for us and the other outside with me; she not knowing what the friend inside the exhibit looked like in order to find her, and no cell phone network underground at the Louvre with which to connect.
It was frustrating to say the least…then a miracle happened. A woman at the entrance held up a paper ticket and said a bit loudly, “Anyone want to buy a ticket?”
I grabbed it, forked over the money and thanked her profusely. I smiled awfully big as I handed the ticket to the guard at the entry who had turned me away moments earlier.
So, keep in mind that if you really want to get into the exhibit and can’t get a ticket online because they are sold out, you might want to take your chances and hang out around the entrance in case there are others who need to sell off a ticket. You might just get as lucky as I did.
The exhibit is worth it, in spite of the fact that the works are placed so close together as not to allow many people to stand around each one, which deserves to be seen close-up. Clearly whomever curated the show with all the problems it has had should be…, or at the very least, fired. Nonetheless, the collection of Dutch Masters is impressive and the Vermeers stand out from all the others for their sensual beauty and utter refinement.
I learned a lot viewing the paintings, most of which are of everyday life, known as “genre paintings” — not portraits, but simple figures doing what people of all classes did during the mid 1600s. What most intrigued me was the fashion of the day, as almost every woman depicted wore or had near her the same three-quarter-length sleeve jacket bordered by ermine. (Those of the wealthier class, of course.) Shoes worn inside at home were like slippers with the same little shaped heel, mostly depicted OFF their feet, obvious in the scene, but in some haphazard position on the floor. (I wanted to straighten them out and place them together in my need to organize!) The women could have all been related to one another and had almost with the same face — all pudgy, with round faces and weak chins, with strawberry-blonde hair. (Perhaps the same models were used over and over?) I also learned that writing love letters, a major theme of the paintings and therefore of the exhibit, was a prelude to increased literacy as well as the the establishment of a reliable and widespread postal delivery system in Holland.
Do see it, but do book in advance if you can! Or go and hope to find someone willing to sell their ticket there on the spot! (louvre.fr/en/expositions/)
This is also the time of year that I mark the calendar to refresh the geraniums in my four window boxes…like clockwork, between March 15th and April 1st. This year was no different. The geraniums lasted through the winter — the winter being milder this past year, perhaps because of global warming, but the old stems needed a boost, so I set out to buy a few new plants with which to inject into them.
It’s become a tradition to take out the six-wheel Rolser marketing cart marketing cart from behind my clothing in the closet (which doesn’t see the light of day very often) and head down to the Quai de la Mégisserie, first for lunch at the Café Bords de Seine then to peruse the “pépiniéristes” (nurseries) to see who has the best “fleurs” for the best price before buying them.
Located between the Pont au Change and Place du Châtelet, this is where Parisians can buy both their pets and their plants. The name of the street changed frequently over the centuries depending on what took place there at that time. It began as Rue de la Mégisserie, then transformed into a quay in 1369 and renamed to Quai de la Saunerie because of its proximity to the port for salt deposal. Almost two hundred years later it was rebuilt (1520) and extended to Le Louvre (at that time it was a castle) and the name stuck…for a while. The extended part went from Place du Châtelet to Place Pépin, where existed a watering trough, and was then called “Vallée de la Misère” because of the flood of the Seine of January 1496 which brought misery and desolation to the area. Butchers’ stalls occupied the extension along the platform at one time and after the drinking trough, the platform was occupied by the “mégissiers” — tanners. In 1769, it was named Quai de la Ferraille and Quai de la Ferronnerie because of the iron merchants who spread their scrap along the supporting wall, before returning to its previous and final resting name of Quai de la Mégisserie, going back to its beginnings. Paris history is like that…while some things stay forever the same, other things frequently change, street names being one of them, and in some cases like this one, circle back to its roots.
Regardless of what it’s called, it’s where I like to shop for flowers every year. The biggest nursery of the bunch is Vilmorin and it’s here where I usually end up for one reason or another. I chose two “barquettes” of six plants each with the brightest red and the biggest heads for under 20€ each, potting soil for the geraniums and some potting soil specific to orchids, carefully loaded them into the Rolser and headed home on the 96 bus.
On the way home, I spotted a big promo for the newest L’Express Magazine with an unflattering caricature of Donald Trump and the headline: “Trump est dingue, mais l’Amérique le soigne…” (Trump is crazy, but America treat him…) The article discusses America’s disapproval of their new president and how he is facing the courts, the press and the people who are determined to take him down.
The French are bewildered by the West’s new leader and talk about him in the press and among themselves almost as much as America media and Americans. It is impossible to be with friends without discussing him and the politics of the day. Even during the George W. Bush administration, this wasn’t the case. Everyone is “eaten up” by what is taking place Stateside affecting their entire moods. I admit to being among those who were once simply “voters” and who are now “activists,” with my more than twice daily Facebook posts and regular screaming matches at the TV, occasionally shooting a bird finger at anything that moves like him. Sometimes I wonder if I am going nuts.
Meanwhile, the geraniums sat on the sill outside my kitchen window until the next morning when my housekeeper of 22-plus years and I spread paper on the floor of the foyer to repot the four window boxes, adding the new plants and plenty of fresh soil. I also took this opportunity to repot the six orchids that line one living room window that happily bloom regularly with white, purple and variegated flowers.
We made a big mess on the floor, but there is such satisfaction and reward from the annual ritualistic task that we both love. She and I emotionally bind over such a rejuvenation of our little “babies” that add life and color against a frequently gray sky. A little thing, but it makes us happy to watch them grow and blossom and it’s a whole lot better than screaming at the TV.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(shopping for flowers)
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