Friday, February 2, 2007

French focus


Close to two decades ago now, I paid my first -- and thus far, only -- visit to France. Sadly, my stay in that country was on the short side. Also, if one were to discount my few hours on the
high-speed Paris-Geneva train with which I concluded my time in the French Republic, I actually didn't venture all that far or frequently out of France's fabled capital city.

However, when one considers what and how many attractions there are in Paris alone...well, let's just say that it's small wonder that I continue to have very vivid memories of my brief French sojourn and quite a surprise that I'm able to narrow down the most memorable places I visited to the following five "must see"s, especially for lovers of art, should they ever find themselves in this country:-

1) The Eiffel Tower: Predictable, I know, but how can one leave the symbol of France off any list of French "must see"s? Still the tallest structure in Paris, this iron structure which stands at 1,063 feet (or 324 meters) was famously constructed to serve as the entrance arch for the 1889 World's Fair hosted by the City of Light.

Strange as it may seem, I feel that many of the photographs of this engineering marvel don't do it justice in terms of showing how big and tall -- and, consequently, physically impressive -- it really is. At the same time, it must be said that the panoramic views of Paris that it affords its visitors may well be the most memorable part of visits to Gustave Eiffel's architectural tour de force.

2) Musee du Louvre: Known just as "the Louvre" to millions of people all over the world, this art museum that's housed in a former royal palace is Paris' most visited monument. I get the feeling though that a great many of its visitors consider their visit to this incredible institution complete after catching only a glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, and find this very sad indeed.

It's not just that the Louvre is home to some 35,000 works of art and has over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. Rather, it's that the largest museum in the world also happens to possess hundreds, if not thousands, of other seriously amazing artistic pieces.

Alternatively put: In most any other museum in the world, masterpieces like Theodore Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa, Jacques-Louis David's Consecration of (the Emperor) Napoleon I and Coronation of Josephine... and Nicolas Poussin's The Rape of the Sabine Women would be centers of attraction in their own right. And so too sculptural gems like the Hellenistic Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus (or Aphrodite) de Milo. Etc., etc., etc.

3) Musee d'Orsay: A pretty new museological establishment by French standards (one which first opened its doors to the public in 1986), this specialist institution whose focus is late 19th century Western, particularly French, art is one whose airy building's magnificence threatens to overwhelm its collections. (In case you didn't know, the spacious structure in question is a historical monument in its own right as well as was once a railway station known as the Gare d'Orsay!)

That is, if not for the fact that this museum's collections happen to include a host of Impressionist treasures -- like Claude Monet's Poppies, Near Argenteuil, Pierre-Auguste Renoir's La Danse a la Ville (Dancing in the City) and Edgar Degas' The Tub -- together with other master works like Edouard Manet's The Fife Player and even James McNeill Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother (AKA Whistler's Mother)...! ;b

4) Palace of Versailles: I know, I know. And yes, it's another former French royal residence turned museum. But this is the palace of Louis XIV, "the Sun King", within which the peace treaty of World War I was signed, that we're talking about! And the depository of various works of art as well as a work of art in and of itself.

Inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979, the Palace of Versailles is grandness personified. As was the case with Beijing's Forbidden City, a good portion of its artistic riches were carried off during or after the Revolution. However, the main building remains, and remains impressive. Ditto with the famous -- and beautifully restored -- "Hall of Mirrors", and also the expansive palace garden that's one of the largest formal gardens ever created.

5) Cathedrale Notre Dame de Chartres: The sixth holy structure to be erected on the same site in Chartres, a market town located some 50 miles (or 80 kilometers) southwest from Paris, Chartres Cathedral has been described by at least one writer as "perhaps the supreme monument of High Gothic art and architecture".

Built over a period which covers the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, the double-spired cathedral rises majestically above other buildings in the town and is visible from a distance. However, upon entering the building, what becomes readily apparent is that Chartres Cathedral's true glory lies in its stained glass windows.

At the risk of sounding like I'm rubbing it in: no words -- or photographs too probably -- can do justice to these medieval works of art which are at their aesthetic, blazing best when a bright afternoon sun shines through them. Instead, about all I can offer up is the fact that close to twenty years on, my memories of (beholding) them continue to burn bright and stay treasured...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi YTSL:

I've been to Paris four times for very short (too short) holidays and each time find new places to visit. We always manage to squeeze in your 1-5 (just cos one must do so on each and every occasion to totally "be" in Paris) and got around to the Rodin and Pablo Picasso museums, Musee L'Orangerie (which houses Monet's Water Lilies canvases), Musee Carnavalet, Sacre Coeur and surrounding Montmartre streets where the artists display their works and performances, l'Opera and shops surrounding, Chinatown, le Pantheon, and Gare du Nord for the Eurostar Chunnel journey.

There's this serve-yourself eatery near the L'Arc de Triomphe that's always a pleasure when you need regular food (like roast chicken, lasagna, jello) and we often went to a Cantonese restaurant or this little Shui-Gow restaurant, both near l'Opera. We even made an unexpected excursion to the American Hospital of Paris.

It's pretty easy getting around with toddler and stroller. But watch out for the dog poop...everywhere on the streets. I need to go back!

I am GurlonFilm.

YTSL said...

Hi back "I am GurlonFilm" (or is it just "GurlonFilm"?) --

"We always manage to squeeze in your 1-5"

Wow! For if truth be told, the only places which I would repeatedly visit are the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay (whereas, for the others, I would worry that visiting too often might make the memories of the visits seem less magical)...

As for the other places you've managed to visit: Envy, envy! especially re the Musee L'Orangerie, Sacre Couer and Montmartre. Also, funny that both of us didn't originally mention the Notre Dame du Paris (which I've visited and am sure that you have too). ;)

And speaking of another place not yet mentioned: I would like to recommend Fontainbleau Palace and -- if it still exists -- the ferris wheel ride at the gardens of the Tuileris as well. :)

"There's this serve-yourself eatery near the L'Arc de Triomphe that's always a pleasure when you need regular food (like roast chicken, lasagna, jello)"

Hmmm, I'm not sure that I would ever feel a need for "regular (American) food" while in France. Or, for that matter, Chinese food. Rather, my one major regret re my sole Paris trip is that I didn't know as much about French food then as I know now... ;S

"But watch out for the dog poop...everywhere on the streets."

Funny, I don't remember Paris as having as much dog poop on the streets as, say, London or Philadelphia! ;D

Anonymous said...

Hi.

Notre Dame Cathedral was visited maybe twice. It's sort of out there. Was treated to some good ole' gypsy hospitality in the Metro elevator by Notre Dame...those ragamuffins. Escaped unscathed. The first visit was during their cleaning so half of the structure was covered which presented some nice pics. But by the next visit the cleaning was completed.

I find that I must pay a visit to the Eiffel Tower on each trip bc my concern is that it may be who-knows-how-long before I return. And it's a good thing bc my last sojourn to Paris was back in '01. I've got this great pic of the lighted tower's underbelly, which one usually does not see. And I've yet to go to the top floor - have only climbed the stairs to the first public platform.

Hm, I didn't find myself dodging dog-poop on London streets. There tended to be more soiling along the smaller side streets in Paris than on the main streets.

My high school french didn't get me very far. At this one bistro I ordered a beef dish which turned out to be a blacked hunk of beef patty, and inside was quite rare. I told the garcon, "le boeuf est trop rouge." Translation: the beef is too red. Haha.

Chinese food (rice and noodles) was a necessity. Not because I'm that particularly fond of Asian food but bc of the my little traveling companion.

The Palace of Versailles didn't allow strollers when I visited. Had to lug around my sick (and heavy) toddler, and therefore, couldn't roam the beautiful gardens.

Visitors should do the Seine cruise. One of the best ways to observe the majestic landmarks and beautiful architecture, and to blow a kiss to little Miss Liberty.

I really want to head outside the Paris city limits in the future. Visit the Loire Valley (and others) and check out les chateaux. Oo-la-la. WTH does that mean anyways? haha

GurlonFilm

YTSL said...

Hi again "GurlonFilm" --

Oh my. Dog poop and "Gypsy hospitality". Glad that you manage to enjoy your visits to Paris in spite of them!

"My high school french didn't get me very far."

At least you had high school French! I, OTOH, gave up after a few lessons as a child, never ever being able to get over the fact that the dog in a story about the Dupont family had a name which translates into Hokkien as the kiddy name for the female reproductive organ! ;(

"Visitors should do the Seine cruise."

Agreed.

As for other French attractions: I'd like to visit Mont-Saint-Michel and the Medieval walled city of Carcassonne some day.

alejna said...

Hi, YTSL-
Thank you for sharing this-it makes me nostalgic. I haven't been back to Paris since 1989. I hope to get there again soon. Such wonderful museums. And such wonderful food--I most miss the pastries, cheeses, and crepes.

YTSL said...

Hi Alejna --

Thanks for reading and enjoying doing so! Also, am glad to find another person who enjoys visiting museums and eating while on her travels! :)