Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Paris Post Quatre: Beep Beep

Heavens, traffic in Paris is scary!  I forgot to get my Fearless Licence before I went...but thank God, for I wouldn’t trust myself driving out there!  (There are many tales about my poor and misguided reversing attempts, but I shan’t go into them here...)  I found it hard, firstly, to register that they drive on the other side of the road to that which I’m used to; secondly, that they sit on the other side of the car to where I expect to see them; and thirdly that they seem to be un-acquainted with the brake pedal until the very last minute...

The roads are one-way but most have two lanes, sometimes with a third for taxis and buses, and they seem to converge in circular ‘hubs’ which aren’t roundabouts but are some kind of junction.  Suffice to say, navigationally-challenged me found it difficult to gauge the direction from which the cars, scooters and motorbikes were coming from.

They made themselves known, though, with honking horns and speedy steering into spaces sheer enough not to exist (we witnessed an almost-crash on our last day; how there weren’t more accidents I’ll never know)...quite often alongside a pedestrian (namely Zoe and I), about to cross the road.  This was a nerve-wracking activity in itself: whilst there are plenty of zebra crossings, they seem to act more as a grouping-pedestrians-together scheme than bestowing right-of-way to walkers.  Indeed, even when the green man is lit up, you won’t be the only one to cross – cars and scooters will join (or overtake) you, encroaching on the space and priority that you expect to be yours.

Clearly, I am a country lass and not a city chick – and this I acknowledge, admit and own.  My personal need for fresh air, open spaces and greenery does not stop me wanting to visit towns and cities, and it doesn’t hold me back: it is a preference, a life-choice.  While I know I will never come to be ‘one’ with bustling, busy and buzzing cities, I do enjoy visiting them...even if I would never dream of driving whilst there!  (And if you’ve seen my reversing, or, worse, experienced my driving, you’ll know that’s the safest option for those cities too...)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Paris Post Trois: The Musee d'Orsay

Art-loving atmosphere.  Authoritative architecture.  Endless art.  And all this from a former railway station!  Zoe and I visited the Musee d’Orsay on the Tuesday of our trip – and, making up for our prior disappointment, everything we found the Louvre not to be, the Musee d’Orsay was.

A fantastic and hugely reasonable price of 8 Euros (temporary exhibits, combined tickets and guided tours were extra, of course) saw us into the stunning, high-ceilinged gallery.  For me, visiting the Musee d’Orsay was all about seeing Monet – so Zoe and I headed straight up to the fifth floor, where their Impressionism collection is housed.

Impressionism* is the Art movement that first grabbed me years ago; pulled me into loving art and the emotions, interpretations and opinions that it evokes – and often provokes.  I’m not well-schooled in Art, unfortunately (I’d love to go back to uni to do Art History...but that would come after I do the MA in Creative Writing – neither of which I can afford at the moment!), but I do know what I like; what moves me, what pins me to the spot and makes me think about its story, its origination and evolution.  Landscapes and seascapes are my weak point, and though I’m not keen on portraiture (why always so sombre and dark a palette, why such cheerless expressions?), I don’t mind figures in a picture; tableaux and gatherings which speak of stories, hint at intrigue to be discovered and unpicked.

And there perhaps is the heart of me: Art is like so much else in my life – a story.  The chosen artist’s subject, palette and brushstrokes are like vocabulary, syntax and imagery for me; a language that I can recognise and interpret, if not duplicate.  There is voice, tone and imagination in a picture; it can be read, heard.  Known.  That sense, that ability and effect, is the compulsion which drives my writing and reading – for I want to create, to share, that in my own work; and I am exhilarated when I find it in another’s.

Of course, in Art, as in life, there are always different horses for different courses – what one person adores, another cannot fathom.  I don’t expect that you will see the same as I do when looking at the paintings which inspire me, but I hope you find something in them.  Monet is my all-time favourite, but I also like (and discovered some of these courtesy of the Musee d’Orsay, so thank you!): selected work from Renoir, Gustave Courbet, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, selected Degas, and Pissaro.  Interestingly, Zoe was drawn immediately to the ornate frames in which the paintings sat proudly, commenting on which ones she felt suited or not, and whether they used mounts or not.  Perhaps this is the eye of the artist’s daughter:  to see how the painting is finished, framed, and put together; influenced, presented.  Offered.

Understandably, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the paintings, so I share some of my favourites taken from Google Images below:

Houses of Parliament, the Sun Shining through the Fog - Monet

Villas at Bordighera - Monet

Blue Water Lillies - Monet

The Cliffs of Etretat After the Storm - Courbet

The Reader - Renoir

Sidestepping from the fantastic art on show – all floors and exhibits are worth seeing, and I even spotted the writing desk of my dreams which, one day far away when I get published, I will commission a carpenter to make for me! – ...   

...the actual building of the Musee d’Orsay is stunning too.  Once a railway station, now converted into an art museum, it is an inviting and striking place – it was great to take a moment, sit on a bench and just take in the arched ceiling with its repeating pattern of decorated squares, almost like delectable chocolates wrapped in gold gilt paper.

I managed to sneak a couple of photos (as did everyone else!) looking out from behind the gothic clock faces, and later the facade from the outside:

So if you should find yourself in Paris, ambling along the River Seine and you spot the calling-card architecture of the Musee d’Orsay, pop in and while away a few hours – you won’t be disappointed.**

*For those not in the art-know, I’m talking an impression of a scene, rather than an exact replica of the scene itself; made up of warm and complementary colours, swirling, blurring brushstrokes and attention given to the way light strikes a subject.                                                                        

**If you (somehow?!) are disappointed, please note the following disclaimer: Deb’s Pen Pot does not offer an exchange or refund on any trip taken; does not accept blame for suggesting excursions; and does not offer improve-your-art-taste courses - though she might cheekily recommend you take one!  

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Paris Post Deux: Snapshots

Two weeks ago today, Zoe and I were relaxing with a hot chocolate back in our hotel room after a busy afternoon wandering around the wonderful Jardin des Tuilieries, which stretch alongside the River Seine with the Louvre at one end and the Place de la Concorde at the other.  Here are a few shots of some things that caught my eye in the gardens, followed by some other snaps of general Parisian inspiration!

The following bronze sculptures by Germaine Richier fascinated me.  They're chessboard pieces, and I wonder if they are a little like gremlins (or even gargoyles), who might come alive at night and play wonderfully devilish games of chess and other impish enigmas...

Not far from our hotel was the train station, and just alongside it was this interesting Tower of Time:

Further on was the Opera House – and this is a truly stunning piece of architecture.  After ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the roof sculptures and wondering quite how they keep the gold paint/patina/colour (whatever it is!) so bright, one of the first things I noticed was...

...a lady sitting on the steps outside the front of the Opera house, reading to her daughter (presumably).  I loved this moment of reading, being that books are so important to me; a story inside a storybook, it piqued my curiosity and asked questions of me...but as I was sightseeing, my camera, not my notebook, was in my hand so I snapped the plot-note instead of jotting it down.

Still snapping away, I caught the spectacular upper facade and suddenly discovered a new daydream: one day, my Future Mr Fabulous Hunk, uHHHHHkkk Hunk, Hall dressed up and decked out (listen up, whoever you are!), will take me to see the opera at the Paris Opera House, and I will LOVE it!

One of my favourite finds in Paris was Cafe Illy, at 13 rue Auber just along from the Opera House.  An Italian brand of coffee whose cafe popped up just when we were in need of a sup-and-sit-down, we were drawn in by Illy’s innovative chrome chandelier of cups, and kept there by the thick, rich and delicious hot chocolate they served.  Yum, yum!

Speaking of which, I feel it’s time to put the kettle on...so I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you about the Musee d’Orsay and my love for Monet.  Now, where's the marshmallows?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Paris Post Une: The Moan Lisa (and that's not a typo!)

The Louvre.  Regally imposing.  Utterly huge.  Ridiculously busy, because it was the first Sunday of the month when entry is free.  Naively entered by me, because I didn’t anticipate (even though I’d been warned!) the mammoth size or how claustrophobically crowded it was going to be. 

Once inside the glass pyramid, an escalator takes you downstairs to the modern lobby, crisscrossed by other escalators rising and descending as they lead into the different wings.  A cafe, shop, ticket stall for the temporary exhibitions, and cloakroom share space along one side, while groups of people mill about between; some in groups waiting for guided tours, others striding out determinedly for the exhibit they aim to see, and most like Zoe and I, overwhelmed and unsure.  So, after a peek or two at the map and a mistaken journey on the wrong escalator, we headed for the Louvre’s most famous resident – The Mona Lisa. 

Now, I should ’fess up my bias straight away: I not one for portraits; I’m a landscape girl.  William Turner, Frederic Edwin Church, contemporary artist Lawrence Coulson, Edward Hopper, Monet*...  These are the painters who set my senses afire, not the inevitably dark palettes of portraiture.  But hey, as the saying goes, when in Rome...

So, there we are, Zoe and I, expecting to see the Mona Lisa in all her glory.  We knew it was going to be packed; we knew we wouldn’t have long to look at her.  From what I’d heard beforehand, I had it in my mind that she’d be in a kind of alcove, and I figured security guards would be there allowing maybe six to ten people to file past, taking her in for perhaps a minute or two at a time.  Well, I was right about the security guards.  But what Zoe and I didn’t expect was...

The scrum.  The scrum to see – well, photograph would be a more accurate description – the Mona Lisa had more pushing, shoving, knees and elbows than a typical rugby match.  The Mona Lisa is encased in glass with a cordon of about four feet in front of her, behind which the rabble jostle for position, cameras and phones and Ipads held aloft, flashing, clicking and snapping.  But not for a moment of appreciation and introspection in front of arguably the most famous painting of all time...  No, just for a photo of it.

Now, call me a Scrooge, but you can get that on Google Images back at home.  Where was the absorption, abandonment and adoration of the painting?  Where was the pause in front of the picture, allowing your human senses to take it in, your mind and imagination to find the story in the brushstrokes, the glory inside the frame?  Where was the wonderment, joy and experience?

Nope, this scrum was all about the pixels of the painting, not the painting itself.  I found it an artificial, soulless display and couldn’t wait to get away, while Zoe found it less so.  She’s the daughter of an artist and has dabbled herself, so for her (and perhaps many of that pushy mob that I’m being unfair to) it was about capturing the moment to share with her father, someone who knows what it is to paint.  With my artistry residing in my writing skills, I prefer a reciprocal exchange between art and myself; a more personal, introspective and authentic experience.  I admit now that I was unrealistic and naive to think I could have such access to such a world-famous and world-desired picture, and I accept that if you went, you’d probably have a different, better time...

...but, for me, the Mona Lisa will always be the Moan Lisa.

*More to come on Monet – we visited the Musee d’Orsay two days later and LOVED it!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Back in Blighty

Bonjour, hello, hope you’re well and apologies that I’ve not been about since I landed back in Blighty last Wednesday night...I’ve been relaxing, lazing and reading in the post-Paris days of my holiday, but am back to work and real-life tomorrow afternoon!

So, Paris.  Wow.  Did my friend Zoe and I enjoy our trip?  Absolutely (see Zoe’s take on it at her blog: http://craftygasheadzo.blogspot.com/ ).  Did I see many sights?  Loads.  Take a camera-full of photos?  Oh yes.  Was I inspired?  Most definitely.  Will I be sharing all this with you?  Certainly.  And, of course, the biggie – did I write?  Er...no, not as much as I’d hoped. 

I discovered that, while I took notes and thought a lot about the places we went and the things we saw, that I wasn’t able to write Novel Number Two scenes and sketches because I’ve not yet done a lot of character backgrounds.  It’s hard to envisage your character in a particular cafe and decide what blend of coffee they’d sip/conversation they’d have when you don’t actually know them yet...  It’s also difficult to spy which kind of French hunk they’re likely to be attracted to, choose which building they’ll live in, or figure out how long they’ll be staying in Paris after all.  I’d planned to work on my character backgrounds before going away, but life happens and it gets in the way sometimes – so instead I printed off what information I had, put it in a file and popped it in my case...and didn’t look at it again!  Oops.  But Paris itself was so inviting and involving, and then so tiring by the evenings that a cup of hot chocolate and a good gossip was all we had energy for.

And so, while I still aim to begin proper writing work on Novel Number Two by the New Year, I know now that I need to spend the next couple of months really working on my characters and the interactions, reactions and obstacles they’re going to have.  My poetry sequence may have to go on the backburner or I may be able to juggle a bit of both (jury’s still out on that one!), but I’ve been inspired enough by Paris and relaxed enough since I’ve got back to start socialising with the people who will drive my story...and once I’ve got to know them a bit better, I’ll be a good host and introduce you to a couple, promise!

But in the meantime, look out this week for Paris Posts – snippets and snatches from my five days in the chic capital.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Paris Bound

Just tomorrow to go, then I will be in Paris!  Saturday will be the first of five days soaking up the atmosphere, seeing the sights, and sitting in the cafes people-watching.  After each day full of culture, I’ll be writing in the evenings back at the hotel...and though this will be all to do with Novel Number Two, it probably won’t be narrative (though you never know!).  It’ll be a mix of observations and place descriptions, notes, character sketches, snatches of dialogue, the odd scene here and there, and any other inspiration that comes my way!  All this will flavour and texture Novel Number Two, as well as motivate, enthuse and invigorate me.

Forgive me, but I don’t want to say too much about Novel Number Two's title, plot and theme just yet, because I don’t want to jinx myself before beginning the actual narrative writing of it!  It’s my goal, though, to start the proper writing (i.e. the stuff that comes after the planning, note-taking and research) before New Year – so I’ll fill you in as I go!

You’ll be having a holiday from me while I’m away, as I’m not taking my laptop.  Now, I do know that the internet exists in other countries and that I can access it via wireless technology (see, I’m a technophobe no longer!), but I have the kind of clumsy bad luck that stabs me in the back.  If I take the laptop, Bad Luck will ensure that it somehow is deprogrammed by cabin pressure, crushed by a monolith of a suitcase, stolen in a case of cash-in-the-briefcase mistaken identity (imagine how gutted the thieves would be!), or dropped down a skyscraper staircase as I juggle the key to the hotel room...  You get the picture.

So, I’m playing it safe and going vintage for the week – notebook, journal and pens only!  When I get back, I promise I’ll post all things Paris...

Au revoir for now!