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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Paris Opera, Sans the Masked Man

Monday 29 June.
We woke up to find that the bakery next door to our hotel was finally open (they close on the weekends) and we were able to get the first substantial breakfast of out trip. I opted for a goat cheese sandwich and Jason had a spinach and salmon quiche.
Both were fantastic.
We wandered back in the direction of Chez Jean for our coffee and stopped at an electronics store* along the way on the off chance that they had film for Jason's camera. Alas they did not, but he was able to pick up a battery and spoke to a French hipster who told us we could find film right down the street, of course, in the photography district!
Silly Americans we are, with our multi-functional superstores! With film and coffee we headed back to the Opera and La Madeline for some
serious picture taking.
Most people know this opera house thanks to the efforts of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford. Yes, this is where The Phantom of The Opera takes place. If I sound snarky about this I do not mean to, Phantom is a great musical, but if you haven't read the original book by Gaston Leroux you are only familiar with a small portion of the story. And, if you really want a more in depth story that actually develops the fictional character's involvement in the building of the opera with an amazing historical accuracy, check out Susan Kay's novel Phantom.
That being said, let's look at the real reason to go to the opera, the architecture!
Garnier's vision is truly a sight one must experience
in person. Here I have what would have been the perfect shot of the exterior if I hadn't
been photo-bombed by Mr. Pac man shirt and Ms. Shirt, what shirt? in the foreground.:

The primary styles as far as I can see, are Greek and Baroque, and both are over the top to the point of tacky, but if you consider the opera to be a monument to the stuffiest of the Arts with a capital A, tacky works.
The interior is extravagant and cavernous, though the auditorium itself is rather intimate compared to performance halls of today. The Grande Escalier is just that, grand. Sweeping stairs of marble pouring from top to bottom like a perfectly decorated wedding cake. I could not actually capture the whole of the staircase because of the sheer number of people wandering about. I do, however have two relatively people-free shots shown here.

Marble statues of the angelic variety and heavily
adorned chandeliers are everywhere. On the second floor is the salon, a long room with a huge fireplace at each end and chandeliers lining the ceiling. I did manage to capture this without people. We were only allowed into the auditorium through two open boxes, which were lovely, plush red velvet affairs that I imagine would have been the source of some fantastic static electricity for the poor aristocratic women of the day with their silks and furs.
(This is probably where the tradition of curtsying comes from as the men folk grew tired of the undignified flinching when shaking a lady's hand.)**
Parisians, in our experience, are not nearly as snobbish as
we westerners are lead to believe, however there is a certain snobbery held by the city of Paris in regards to their monuments and structures. Certain modern additions, such as IM Pei's pyramid at the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre modern art museum, are seen as blemishes on the beautiful landscape of the City of Light. I'm inclined to disagree with the assessment of the aforementioned structures, however
within the opera we have another story.
In 1964 Marc Chagall added his mark to the infamous auditorium ceiling against much protest by the people of Paris. Now don't get me wrong, I do have a certain respect for (some of) his work, but I am inclined to agree with the people, this is not a fit:

How, you ask, can anything not fit within a structure that borrows from just about every art style from ancient to modern? I don't know, my only theory is that the delicate balance was too delicate and Chagall's brush stroke was the proverbial straw on the camel's back.
How perfect that we now transition into our trip to the Pompidou for more shocking modern art weirdness. But first, let me briefly warn anyone who plans to take the metro to the Pompidou from the Opera, don't get off at Chatelet. This was the longest series of tunnels and we thought we would never find the exit. When we finally did, it dropped us in the middle of a mall that was even more impossible to get out of. Yes, French malls are just as obnoxious as American malls. Though it was weird seeing both an Esprit and Bennetton store. I was momentarily transported to 1989 with all of my awkward fashion inequities intact.
Stopped for a coffee and took this brilliant pictorial commentary on Parisian life:
I LOVE the sucre packets, so pure that I forgot (or merely didn't care) that I was using refined sugar. All of the cafés we went to had their names on the inside lip of the cups. In case you can't read this one it says Café Richard.
And yes, that's the bumper of a Smart car in the background. We saw quite a few of them over there.
At the Pompidou we could not take photos, as this was more in line with traditional museums, but we were able to get some shots of the exterior. The designer's concept was that of a building turned inside out and it works. the stairs and elevators, along with all of the water pipes and electrical conduits allowed by building inspectors, are on the outside and brightly colored. There is a massive golden plant pot on a pedestal out in front, and large white structures that look like massive air vents lining the courtyard square.

We paid our entry and took the escalator to the top floor where the exhibitions are we got a very pleasant surprise in the form of an exhibit of most (if not all) of Alexander Calder's wire works. I had previously seen Calder's Circus***, which was here as well, but I had not seen some of his more adult oriented (not terribly dirty, more funny in a 10 yr old boy way) sculpture or his amazing wire likenesses of famous people of his time including Josephine Baker and Jimmy Durante (the nose is perfect). They were playing movies of Calder performing with his circus (which looked more like a crazy old man playing with toys, I loved it), constructing facial likenesses of his subjects, and of some of the works in motion. The other showing was a Russian painter that I didn't have a lot of interest in. The main gallery was showing feminist works, which just annoyed me because feminist art to me is a huge hypocrisy, but I'll not get on my soap box about it here.
The second floor of the gallery had Jackson Pollock, Matisse, Picasso,and tons of other well known modern artists (no Magritte though, I guess all his works are in Belgium) which was great, though by this time my legs were in such bad shape that I had become immune to ibuprofen and I had to sit at every opportunity and I was quite crabby.
All in all though a wonderful day, which had a wonderful end because we spent it drinking German beer and eating olives at a café/bar down the street from our hotel.

*side note, the electronics store was called DARTY, which when said aloud sounds like the word dirty with a serious brouge. "Ah jaysas yer a darty one aren't yeh?"
**This is not fact. I made it up because I'm a liar like that.
***This links to a book that I was given many years ago by my good friend KD. I still have the book, I still look at it when I need a smile. Thanks KD!

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