Random Sights, Random People

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Europe, Croatia 399Tuesday, September 18th.

First stop today: the Montparnasse Tower – hated by Parisians, but known for views that rival those of the Eiffel Tower, for a fraction of the wait time.

Luckily, I’d bought my ticket at the tourist visitors’ centre the day before, so when I arrive this afternoon, I only have to wait seven minutes in line before boarding the elevator for an ear-popping 38-second ride up to the 56th-floor observation deck.

To be able to just look out as far as the eye can see, in any direction, is simply marvelous.

But the views don’t stop there. I take a few flights of stairs up to the 59th floor – the tower’s roof. The view up here is even better than indoors/downstairs – and it includes a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. (Thank you, Fat Tire Bike Tour guide for the suggestion!)

Europe, Croatia 418After, I head over to the Mus√©e d’Orsay – a site I would say is more than worth the price of admission.

This building (which, I believe, used to be a train station) is, in itself, a work of art. The only thing that takes away from its beauty for me, on this day, are the crowds, and the signs which suggest I should be on guard in case of pickpockets. In the scheme of things, though, this is minor.

I don’t need to visit the Louvre. All those works by C√©zanne, Manet, Monet and Van Gogh, the impressionist and pontilist art, the sculptures … these are all the treasures I need to see. Perhaps I’ll take on the Louvre on my next trip to Paris.

Later in the afternoon, I decide to head to Notre-Dame … but when I arrive, I discover it’s closed.

So I wander around near the Seine and try to find the Canadian pub Darlene and Laurent mentioned the day before … but to no avail.

Europe, Croatia 421With two strikes under my belt, I take the steps down to the path by the river and start walking.

I pass clusters of kids and young people sharing wine, and couples sharing moments of affection, the strong smell of urine stinging my nose.

I walk as far as I can until the path ends, then ascend to street level.

I try to walk further so I can find that Islamic centre Nathalie spoke of a couple of days earlier, but I think I just end up walking alongside the side of  the Louvre that faces the river.

Europe, Croatia 424Perhaps the one thing I come across on my walk which catches me by surprise, is the glint coming off one of the pedestrian bridges in the near distance.

I get closer and discover the Pont des Arts, known as the Lover’s Bridge, for its many locks that couples attach to the bridge’s chain-link fencing.

On my way back, I decide to do one final search for the Great Canadian Pub before going “home” for the night.

As I’m about to give up and cross the street – there it is.

I actually hesitate, because I’m not sure if I have the right place – it doesn’t match the visual I have in my mind. I’m also on the fence as to whether I want to go in. In the end, I do – I tell myself I’m having a drink, then heading “home” to sleep.

The place is packed, except for a couple stools at the bar. Between the blare of the TVs and the noisiness of the bar, I can’t really hear any English being spoken. Despite the jersey displayed in one corner and some paraphernalia scattered around the bar¬†(the “Canadian” decor), there’s a UEFA soccer match which, I can only presume, is a big one.

Europe, Croatia 430I place my drink order (a Strongbow) with one of the bartenders, a French guy wearing a Moosehead Beer t-shirt.

And for a while, I just sit there, listening. I think I detect English being spoken by two guys to my left … and, listening a bit longer, I hear a couple on my right, definitely speaking English. Straining to hear, I think they might be Canadian, which perks me up a bit.

My suspicion’s confirmed when I overhear the guy speaking to the bartender in the Moosehead shirt.

So, mustering up some courage, I wait for a lull in their conversation, and, SUCCESS. Turns out they’re originally from Sarnia, but live in Toronto. They’re heading to a wedding in Hungary, but decided to spend a couple of days by themselves in Paris. Who would have thought I’d actually find Canadians in the Canadian-themed bar in Paris?

So we chat for a bit; they generously buy me a drink. A bit later, they step outside for a smoke (and, as it turns out, to finish their drinks and take off).

After we part ways, I return inside … and end up chatting to the guys who are sitting to my left. Julian and Dave are American ex-pats who had come here for school, but have been here ever since.

So we talk about Paris, music by French bands we recognize (at least, Julian and I do), and make other small talk. Eventually Julian leaves, so it’s just me and Dave. When the place thins out, Dave suggests we go elsewhere. First we check out this bar that looks really cool on the inside, but is about 40 minutes away from closing for the night.

Then we head over to another place he knows which – from what I can tell, and what he tells me – could be a Russian-owned establishment. The interior looks like it could be some sort of boom-boom dance club with tables – except it’s empty.

So, one more drink … and then we part ways.

(What? Did you think something ELSE happened?)

I head home, ready for some much-needed sleep. Tomorrow’s another day, and I’ve got another part of town to see.

Waterlilies, Tombs, and Happy Hour (Parisian Style)

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Monday, September 17th.

My long walk home has ruined my plans to get an early start on the day and tick off some of the places on my list.

I eventually get myself in order, and head down to the tourist information office.

After tolerating a long line to get a museum pass, followed by a(n awkward) bite to eat at a nearby bagel place, my first stop is the¬†Mus√©e de l’Orangerie, which houses eight of Monet’s “Waterlilies” paintings in two rooms specially designed to best view the works.

Europe, Croatia 370To my recollection, I’m sure I’ve only seen reproductions of Monet’s works, so I’m surprised at how large they are.

I love the variety of colours used, and I don’t feel rushed as I study each work from one end to another.

There’s also a lower level, which showcases many other paints from artists varying from ¬†C√©zanne¬†to Picasso. (I’m sure technically I’m not supposed to, but … *coughs nervously*)

After, I hop on the métro and head over to the Panthéon.

The architecture of the lobby and main level itself – from floor to dome – is a sight to behold.

Europe, Croatia 379Also neat to see? Foucault’s Pendulum. Or, rather, an exact copy of the original, which has been swinging permanently in the¬†Panth√©on for 17 years. I’ve heard of the pendulum, but have never seen one up close. Nor has it ever occurred to me that it would be this big.

I head into the crypt of the¬†Panth√©on, to visit the final resting places of a number of France’s most well-known names.

I visit the corner that Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau share; I peek in on Louis Braille and Marie Curie (in different sections, of course).

Europe, Croatia 381And the hallways – despite the echoes of the voices of yammering tourists (and shushing by staff) – are immaculate and sleek (and this is me describing a crypt).

Outside the¬†Panth√©on, I need to kill time before I go to meet Darlene for drinks. And I’m kind of hungry. So in a moment of weakness, I duck into a McDonald’s. I usually try to stay away from the familiar (or ubitquitous) when I travel. But today, I think I’m at a breaking point. I’m craving grease and batter.

Heading out, I ride the¬†m√©tro¬†to Saint-Michel station, but get a bit lost (surprised?), then dawdle in Shakespeare & Company, so I’m late when it’s time to meet Darlene.

When I finally find her, it turns out she’s brought her roommate Laurent with her. They take me right into the heart of the¬†Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s neighbourhood. Many bar and restaurant terraces are already full to the brim with happy-hour-goers, drinking and smoking, by the time we get there.

So now, we’re waffling between finding indoor seats at one of the French restaurants surrounding us, or trying to find the Canadian bar (which I think is called the Great Canadian Pub – someone can correct me if I’m wrong) where ex-pats are known to hang out.

We pick a French restaurant and hastily file inside. Our server’s super-friendly and he provides us with popcorn and olives to accompany our drinks.

Laurent’s really friendly. Originally from the north of France (not sure if his easygoing nature’s a direct product of being from outside Paris), he’s working as – of all things – a spam programmer, but is on the hunt for another, less questionable job.

We don’t hang out too late, as Darlene has to get back to working on her freelance project.

I return to my neighbourhood and grab a bite at one of the local restaurants. Given my late night on Sunday, I opt to turn in comparatively early.

Tomorrow, I aim to make up for a bit of lost time.

The Nuit Blanche Experience

I could hear the sound all around me, as my friend and I entered the Royal Conservatory of Music Saturday night.

It was one note after another, in the same key. But all the players involved Рwhether performing on strings, woodwinds, brass, guitars, or using their voices Рwould change notes.

One moment the “chords” would be soothing; the next,¬†jarring; and still the next, just plain eerie.

That was the sound of art being made –¬†one of scores of¬†different contemporary art installations and exhibits being put on for Nuit Blanche, the 12-hour extravaganza that happens once a year here in Toronto (and at other times of the year in other cities right around the world).

I’d been a couple of times before, with different people. But this year, I had the chance to tool around with a friend who’d never gone, and always wanted to. The sheer distance between zones was daunting, but we thought we’d be ambitious and start early to see¬†as much as we could.

I appreciate events like Nuit Blanche, because – like so many people in town – I don’t feel as though I have the time to truly immerse myself¬†in art of any form – whether visual, musical or otherwise.

So I really don’t¬†mind making the effort for something like this, even if¬†I don’t understand all of it, or even like it.

And to be truthful, I didn’t like everything I saw. But that’s just my opinion. And that’s probably the best thing about art.¬†It’s NEVER¬†black-and-white. It’s whatever I think it is. And everyone is entitled¬†to their own¬†interpretations.

Aside from the enormous amount of walking I did (other friends, being downtowners, took to the streets on their bikes) it was nice just running into people, whether planned or at random.

And it’s one of those few times during the year in which you get to enter buildings you’d normally not be able to … or would have to pay admission to enter.

And really? On no other night would one be able to see huge construction cranes carrying out a slow “dance” once an hour in Liberty Village …

A gigantic silver balloon, shaped like a rabbit holding a carrot, just floating around in the Eaton Centre …

Carnival rides on Bay Street being operated by newly-downsized workers …

Or getting dance lessons from instructors at the Toronto Public Library.

And at the end of the night, when my feet were tired, and I tired of the crowds, I was satisfied with having gotten to do something different from what I’m used to.

I can only hope I can make another effort on my own …¬†to take time out of my busy life, to take in some art in whatever form I can find it.

Art, Nudity and Necessity

On Friday night, I kicked off my weekend by going with a friend Рan arts journalist Рto a theatre production wrapping up its run.

Overall, I liked the play and its messages.¬† (You can visit Play Anon’s blog for her take.)

But near the end, the leading actor (and central character) Рin what would have been the emotional height of the play Рtook off ALL his clothes and just stood there on stage. Stark naked.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback.

A couple of times, I cast a sideways glance at my friend. She¬†was partially covering her¬†mouth with her hand. I could only guess at any number of things that could have been running through her head.¬†But among them,¬†she probably wasn’t thinking:

“I can’t believe I’m¬†looking at this guy’s¬†junk.”

Sophmoric and unsophisticated?¬†Well,¬†I’ve¬†never professed not to be.

But it did¬†get¬†me to thinking …¬†Was this necessary?

I know I’m not asking an original question.¬†But I think it’s one¬†occasionally worth raising.

When is seeing an artist nude¬†crucial to the message they’re trying to convey? And when it is¬†just gratuitous ?¬†

With respect to the production I saw – and without going into much detail¬†–¬†I think I understood why he did it. Within the context of the piece, he used¬†his body¬†to represent, among other things,¬†vulnerability and¬†discomfort at facing a personal¬†truth.

That also probably meant also getting us to face our own personal discomforts …¬†making us in the¬†audience¬†feel¬†just as uncomfortable¬† …¬†to address the matter head on (so to speak).

For as he stood there in all his naked glory, save for his pair of socks, I found it difficult to look at him Рand to look away.

Was it relevant? In this case, yes, I think so. But I still hold my reservations.

I’ve never considered myself to be¬†the most liberal person around – who truly is? But¬†I don’t think I’m a complete prude, either.

Neither is the friend with whom I saw the play. But I think even she has her limits.

When we hung out on a previous occasion, she recalled going to an art charity event a few weeks earlier. One actor Рa friend of hers Рdid this piece in which he performed au naturel.

She said the performance made her a bit mad.¬†She felt as if her colleague had gone for that “gotcha” moment, doing his bit naked, because he thought¬†he could get away with being able to do it¬†for art’s¬†sake.

I remember another instance, a handful of years back, in which I went to the film festival here in town. A friend of a friend had a free movie ticket at the last minute; I thought, why not?

Granted, when she was like, “We’re going to see a sex film,” almost gleefully, I knew what I was getting into.

The film itself Рbased on the blurb I read beforehand Рfocussed on the anatomy of a relationship from just the physical perspective.

Was there nudity? You bet. Was it explicit? Yes. Was it a cinematic achievement? Hardly. I just thought it was a bit excessive.

Looking back, I wonder: did I just spend almost two hours in a theatre on that late summer evening watching glorified pornography? Or art?

Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.¬†So¬†consider this:

For the last couple of spring semesters,¬†another¬†friend of mine – a high-school¬†art teacher¬†– goes through¬†the process of¬†finding people to work as nude models for her students’ sketch class.¬†

Is this acceptable?

To me, I don’t see¬†a “gotcha” element to this.¬†It’s for educational purposes – learning to sketch and draw a live form.

Do I think it’s the only acceptable circumstance? No, of course not.

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll see nudity in an art piece or production. Perhaps as I see more of them,¬†my personal standards¬†will¬†expand.¬†¬†

Or maybe I’ll never stop¬†questioning its relevance.