Copyright © 2002 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
The northern Solstice has arrived which is the longest day of the year when summer starts and also, throughout Paris, Les Fêtes de Musique all day and well into the night. We have vivid memories of this day during the years we spent in Paris. Every professional musician in Paris is employed and all amateurs have a chance to play and do their thing. Many cafés hire a combo. In addition to the public parks and scheduled events, music happens where ever musicians set up on any street, sidewalk, or doorway. Some streets are closed and people leave their places of business and homes like children awakening to the Pied Piper's song.
On June 21st 1988 we left port in Enkhuizen, The Netherlands, on our way to France, and later that day arrived at Medemblik to songs of "Oh lay, ohlay, ohlay, ohlay, oh lay, oh lay, ohlay ohlay ohlay ..." The festivity there was not in celebration of the winter solstice but victory in a soccer game in which they beat a strong Russian team.
According to today's Le Figaro, the day will be 16 hours and 11 minutes with the sun rising at 5:47 and setting at 9:58
I was up during the night...
Got the newspaper, did morning chores.
Went out to buy a ball point pen, a wallet, muffins, and a "Thank You" card for the gardiens which I will give them tomorrow with a tip. Shopped for more orange juice, cookies, cheese.
Lunch. Nap. Lounged about. Later went out for a short stroll. Found place Joséphene Baker named for the famous and talented black musical hall star who lived her stardom in France when the States knew only Jim Crow. The street sign informed us that she had also been in the Free French Army as a "sub Lieutenant" during the war (W.W.II).
Walked. Returned. Will eat early so as to join in the festivities at Invalides and St.-Germain.
Our first stop that night was the courtyard of Les Invalides which is a large complex of buildings including a museum, Napoleon's tomb and a military hospital for the war wounded. In the courtyard of the main structure we expected to find and enjoy bands from the Garde Republican playing triumphant music. We missed the main events (scheduled earlier). We were disappointed with the second string players and poor musical selections. We listened though and while we did my eyes found a statue of Napoleon in the darkness of a niche in the center of the second tier on the far wall. War was what these buildings and his monument are all about. I envisioned German troops on the cobblestones. And then I said to myself, almost loud enough to be heard, "We've never been occupied." We left shortly after.
We headed for a New Orleans jazz group scheduled to play near St.-German-des- Prés. Our route started with rue de Grenelle which is usually a quiet street but was lively tonight...pedestrians, music at one of the cafés and down one side street. At rue de Bac we turned left toward boulevard St.-Germain which we then followed to its intersection with rue Bonaparte at place St.-Germain-des-Prés in front of the church of the same name.
By then many hundreds of people were in the streets, music was in all the cafés and vendors with smoking fires were grilling merguez sausages for the hungry crowd. We turned left and watched a group of 7 men prepping their 7 hunting horns that behaved like horses ready for the signal. And then with many grunts and growls the men faced the church yard fence so that the flute part of the horn opened to the growing audience. Each player had a white glove on his right hand with which he held the horn; his left hung by his side. A signal from the leader and every rabbit and fox that might have been hiding in the bushes of the church yard felt fear for the first time since last year. No dogs, though, just the music, a short piece.
We continued on rue Bonaparte to rue Jacob where we turned left. Up a bit on the right. Rue de Furstemberg took us to a tiny place where the Eugène Delacroix's museum is and there we found a group of about 8-10 mostly girls with a few young men who were about to sing. One girl of about 20 began quietly singing. We couldn't make out the words. A few moments later, you'd swear you were at revival meeting at a black Southern Baptist Church. The gospel singers broke into rhythm that set the gathering alive. Nowadays, gospel is quite popular in Paris.
It was 9:40 p.m.; the sun is out and all is quite bright.
We continued on rue de Furstemberg to rue de l'Abbaye St.-Germain-des-Prés where a group was playing classical New Orleans Jazz - drums, trombone, bass, clarinet, trumpet, banjo - a delight which we enjoyed.
We crossed passage de la Petite Boucherie left on rue de Buci which turns into rue St.-André-des-Arts when it crosses rue de Seine. By now walking had become difficult. Cafés were everywhere with music coming from every direction. A few foolish automobiles and taxies cautiously navigated through the waves of people. Cheer was everywhere. Smiling faces, kisses, song. We moved slowly on rue St.-André-des-Arts until we came upon a group of musicians at the corner of rue Mesiers in front of Galerie St.-German-des-Prés about to play.
To our right was an automobile that had a secure parking spot with a barrage forward and on the side. These metal barrages are about 8 feet long, and about 3 1/2 feet waist high and are used for crowd control, to block streets, and to secure spaces on the street for parking. Fortunately, there was space between the barrage and the automobile which accommodated us perfectly and there we stood leaning against the car as hundreds of people surged passed within a food in front us. We spent some time there, listening to the sound our kind of music from the thirties and forties, and enjoying our private place. All we needed were a couple of drinks and we could have stayed all night.
We decided to head slowly back. Buses weren't running and we didn't want to take the métro so the walk - at least the walk this evening - would take some time.
We gave up our loge seats and joined the flow of traffic until rue d'Odéon where we made a right toward St.-Germain. We passed rue de Serpent ending at our target corner where we spotted an immense knot of people moving toward us through the thousands of people already there and singing a ditty something like "Oh lay, ohlay, ohlay, ohlay, oh lay, oh lay, ohlay ohlay ohlay ...." I suggested we move out. The crowd was happy and having fun, but tight crowds of hundreds within thousands are unstable.
It was then that I pointed out that since our evening began we hadn't seen one policeman and had not heard one siren. Paris police don't move until a need exists and then they apply tremendous force.
We passed Odéon against the tide pouring in from ahead. It appeared that all Paris had just awakened to the festival and were just then converging on the area that we were leaving. Walking against the wave continued even when we arrived at the foot of rue de Rennes, the street that leads to Montparnasse and home. People were streaming down the boulevard as if it were high noon. A café midway up was filled with people listening to a small combo of drums, guitar, trumpet, sax, etc. We stopped for a moment and continued.
And then when we reached the top of the incline where buses start their trips, a small combo of 2 violins, a viola, a flute, and an accordion had found an audience in front of an enclosure at the bus stop. Once again we listened but then made our way home. Arrived at about 11:15. It had been a long day but a fun one.
We got up late: last laundry day.
Lunch and a nap.
We would go to the Louvre. Unfortunately for us, there was a strike which Marcia had anticipated but which we had not planned for. The workers need a day of rest after all that carousing
We returned to the Left Bank and entered the quai Malaquais entrance to the École Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts, France's prestigious national academy for the Fine Arts. In 1950 I regretted not enrolling there because at the end of each year, the art students held a costumed ball in the spirit of Dionysus where costumes were paint and free meant sex.
Today, we wanted to see the best work of students who just received a college degree in plastic arts. According to the publicity we received, of the 108 students who presented works, only 29 received appropriation from the select jury and only 10 of these received an imprimatur that was unanimous.
Having seen much juvenile art, we expected little and were not disappointed.
One of the first "works" under the category of Installation and Performance was one in which: "objects found in daily life are transformed. The forms evolve or fluctuate in time and space. The structures are functional."
This artist Bruno B. born in 1976. Already an accomplished artist having exhibited in Paris in the 1997 Dildo Show; a personal exhibit in New York called Appetite for Destruction; another personal exhibit in Los Angeles; in Santa Monica California at the C. Manson Institute for science and technology with Happy Last Seconds; at the Koresh Center for advanced social research and communication in Waco, Texas with 2000 Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it.
What follows is as translation of the description of the exhibit and how it is to be interpreted.
Breads, installation; Receptacle, sculpture and Coffin/coughing, a sound sculpture
I - Considering the following:
a) A refrigerator (replica); has a function of conservation as does a coffin (coffin)
b) Sound: a person who coughs (coughing)
add up to Coffin/coughing
II - Considering the following:
a) The bread's dough
b) The brain (a replica)
add up to perishable organic materials"
The sound of someone coughing! A pile of material that perhaps were turds in the corner that were supposed to be bread! Art?
In other works we were to see a hanging object, a moving one, a video of shoes keeping time with music, a dog house. I could go on.
(Down deep I was disappointed; and these were the best!)
These were not children's works but accomplished museum artists whose creations have been, and still are, being exhibited in museums. Unfortunately, these works are not for average people who live in ordinary homes. I called them FMO, for museums only.
Both of us left and turned up Rue Bonaparte because I was sure there was another entrance that I had seen on the bus. Sure enough, opposite Rue des Beaux Arts, was the entrance. We lucked in to place and time: the ateliers were open and exhibiting.
These ateliers, or studios, are the actual rooms where art is created and often displayed. We found ourselves moving in and out of buildings and sheds just following white signs. It was a maze. When we returned home, my map of the city showed that the area that houses the École Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts is larger than the city hall of Paris and almost as large as the area devoted to the Ministry of Defense.
The buildings that house these studios are former homes of nobility and "hotels" of the royal family. Original cobblestone courtyards and gardens blend with the sense of another era. The studios themselves are huge, each with high windowed skylights. Often only one work was shown. Usually a cluster of students were present with the artist. Often a platter of food or a bottle of wine was nearby.
The artist who created mosaics was the only one who impressed me. Near the door and around the studio were heaps of stone in slabs, pieces, and bits..stones of every color and shape you can imagine. In a mosaic the artist usually first draws what she wants to create. Then stone by stone she makes it come alive by cementing each piece into a previously built frame. Not only can the stone's color, shape, and texture vary but the distance between each piece can vary as well.
I particularly liked a large frame with figures of a man and a woman who might have been lovers or a father and daughter, a man and his wife, or strangers. The pointillist mosaics created an impression which provided an ambiguity that was intriguing.
Not pleasant at all was gaggle of girls gowned in white who moved like ducks spraying air fresheners. In the background was a long table of cleaning supplies.
We walked through a garden and found two young men, one with a drum and two girls on their hands and knees "painting" a big canvas that had been spread on the grass. Bright colors and then dark colors in broad swaths without any apparent reason were brushed or thrown on the canvas. I was reminded of children finger-painting in school or monkeys, encouraged by humans, trying to be Rembrandts. The drummer drummed, the sun shined, and we departed.
We got a chance to visit the Amphitheater of Morphology. Two copies of Discus Throwers adorned each side. In the well were two screens on which something was happening on the right side while the left was blank. Visitors entered, stood in the back, and walked out while the three artists fooled around with computers and projectors off on the side.
The main hall of the school was devoted to two exhibits: one was an Arctic tent on a green foam carpet that covered half of the floor. Rope, the thickness of hawser, hung from ceiling in great arcs. A small sign indicated bare feet were required of those who wanted to enter the tent; we saw no one enter it. On the other side of the hall were many thousands of dollars worth of sound equipment which was producing some sound which I can't remember but which seemed to fade.
Marcia took the trouble to go upstairs to the next floor. It wasn't one flight up as she expected since the first floor's ceilings were so high. What she found above was a beautiful library maintained in its original splendor. Art from the past. We wondered if the students ever got to the second floor.
The hall itself at one time had also been magnificent. We guessed that it is used for the annual Beaux Arts ball already mentioned. Ah, lost youth.
We had Coca Cola in a student cafeteria which is an area set apart with temporary walls. We could look up at columns 50 feet high and wonder who once occupied this building.
Most of the work we saw was infantile. We were both reminded of places like Bard and St. John's College in the States where everything goes. The young people, "artists," were still in their diapers, although I'm afraid they have already succeeded in what they set out to do. Having fun at the expense of adults.
Except for the mosaic work and some sculpture of wood, none of the works we saw required much talent or skill.
Should I contact the Naples Art Center to see if I can organize a group to explore the reason for such art? Perhaps I can get people to talk about it.
Came home, rest a bit, and then off to one of our old haunts in the Latin Quarter, Le Petite Hostellerie. The owner, former waiter, greeted us and we went upstairs and sat where we used to sit years before. It's a nice room tastefully decorated in old things.
Marcia had a paté of chicken livers and I had escargots. For the main course, Marcia had faux filet with bernaise sauce and I a duck orange. I had cheese and shared Marcia's Profiteroles. Wine, tea and coffee. The dinner came to 264 Francs ($35 dollars at 7.6 F to a $1) for the meal including tip. I left another 10 francs about $1.30.
We said goodbye to the waiter-now-owner and left him our calling card.
Home via rue St-André-des-Artes and the "place" that doesn't have a name at the Delacroix museum.
We fussed, I bought a wallet, Marcia did some work vacuuming, we had an early lunch, napped, and off to the Louvre.
As we passed the crowded cafés on Montparnasse and Marcia walked ahead of me, I couldn't help but notice the Dickies label on the back of her black slacks. I commented that people would be shocked after seeing the front of this beautiful young lady to find that she was wearing not a pair of slacks with a Cardin label but another they never heard of. She commented that soon it would be as famous as Levis.
Our first stop was to Friends of the Louvre to replace my card which had been stolen. Then we bought a case for the prints that we were taking back to the States.
Finally, off to see Salle du Manége one more time. Marcia helped me identify some more objects at the top of the columns.
After that we visited the apartment of Napoleon III which was one of the Louvre's special exhibits. It was like Versailles but the furnishings were in better shape. We admired the fine workmanship on a silver set and wondered how it was done. And we found a loft above the main sitting room where we guessed musicians sat, serenading the Emperor and his guests. So much opulence.
We then went to the Richelieu wing to the early Flemish painters where we studied the work of David Tenier(1610-1690), le jeune (the younger) I got a kick of our noting the compositional elements: repeated fence, roof, the color red, green, church steeple. The fence and church steeple appear in other works. These small paintings in the side salons are best for me. I can get up close and look a them carefully.
Home, salmon with Champagne -
Early to bed. 9:20 for me.
We stopped by Simone's house to say goodbye. Then to Charlette and Michel and later to Mary.
As we were walking I noticed an apartment on the 4th floor being gutted. In Paris debris is thrown down an expandable chute made up of a series of inverted large round garbage can type cylinders, chained together, and ending in a heavy canvas covered opening to reduce dust and the spread of fragments. In this four story building 12 such links carried the refuse to a truck.
On our way back through the Marais we walked into place du Marché-Ste- Catherine, a small cobblestoned square where ten years before I "danced all night" alternating between Marcia and her sister. What a night that was!
As we waited for our bus, I noticed a mixed racial couple on their balcony. The man looked like an American Indian. Marcia suggested that a Peruvian would be a better guess. Whatever, couples and groups are often of mixed ethnic backgrounds here. No one minority group is more dominant. Oriental, Indian, Peruvian, North African, African.
The late afternoon traffic was heavy with bicycles and folks skating on either old fashioned roller skates or the single "ice skate" model. More skating and cycling in Paris than ever before.
Our bus ride home passed place St-Suplice now "housing" a show of Poetry. Two weeks before it was an antique show and before that "Mathematics." And so it goes in Paris, show after show - and this is but one small square in just one arrondissement.
M. Docteur G., our landlord, arrived at noon - offered to rent us a place at Rochelle for 10,000FF a month - villa on the beach with eight rooms.
He returned the 8,000 francs in traveler's check I had given his wife for security.
Nap, more packing, trip to buy Marcia a new barrette, long
2nd shower, cocktails, dinner at Morlaix.
On the way over we noticed an exhibit going up in the place in front of the Gare. A swift and flying horse was being created with the round small light wooden containers used for camembert cheese. In front of it are pear, apple and plum trees with grass and flowers. The exhibit is celebrating the ciders of the Normandy.
Robed tall African with robe peddling with a black small carry-all.
No persian rugs.
Oh, Cronshaw, what would you have done?
We took the Air France bus to the airport, an Air Canada jet
to Toronto, another one to Miami where we had a motel waiting
for us. Next day - a rental car to Naples.
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