Paris. I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps it is logical to start with what awed me. (It is worth noting that I’m not using the word “awed” lightly. I mean it in the true sense of the word.)
My awe list:
1. The Jardin des Tuileries — Nothing could have prepared me for its splendor. I am grateful to have found this on my very first day in Paris, meaning I could return a handful more times. There is a large fountain in the middle surrounded by chairs. They’re green metal chairs and look pretty ordinary, but when you sit in them you realize they are angled in a way that your butt sinks into them and relaxation just takes over. I did some reading and writing there almost every day. The sprawling gardens and, of course, the Louvre made for a dramatic and slightly surreal backdrop. I was transported.
2. Olympia by Manet — I went to the Musee D’Orsay with Olympia on my mind after reading that this particular painting was there. I have a print of it in my bedroom and I was intrigued. Once in the door of the museum, I went on a hunt all over the ground floor. Where is she? Then, where the hell is she? I finally asked and was pointed to a room I thought I’d already covered. So I entered it skeptically, only to turn the corner and stop dead in my tracks. Holy mackerel. Olympia is a prostitute lounging naked (except for a pair of mules) on a bed. The painting is famous mostly because of her frank gaze and unabashed nudity. It was worth the hunt. Not to mention all the fabulous Impressionist paintings in the permanent collection there. (There’s a Renoir that almost made the awe list).
3. Winged Victory of Samothrace — I knew absolutely nothing about this piece of art except as mentioned in passing when people talk about things to see in the Louvre (along with the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc.). I am now completely fascinated by it in every sense. Its story, its presence. I walked into the Denon section of the Louvre, armed with the requisite map, en route to the Mona Lisa and some Botticellis. I saw a flight of stairs and couldn’t believe the vision at the top. My eyes filled with tears instantly. She is magnificent, even armless and headless, with her wings extended and her garments blowing in the wind. How does one achieve that in stone? People were jockeying for position to take pictures and this is one of those times in life where I differ from most, I think. How in the world can you expect to capture that in a photo? That image will never leave my mind. Never.
I did a bit of research and found out that it is a marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (victory), so it is also known as Nike of Samothrace. It was discovered in Greece in 1863 and is thought to be from 220 to 190 B.C. The artist is unknown, but the supposition is that it was commissioned to celebrate a naval victory. According to Wikipedia, “The statue stands on the prow of a ship, representing the goddess as she descended from the skies to the triumphant fleet.” It is 10.7 feet high, including the wings. So beautifully displayed. A sight to behold.
Stay tuned for more on Paris …