Paris one year af­ter Bat­a­clan

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - Laura Tanna

PARIS WAS spec­tac­u­lar when I was here from the end of Septem­ber into early Oc­to­ber, 2015. Fashion Week was in full swing, the sun shone brightly, and au­tumn leaves pro­vided a riot of auburn and yel­low along the Champs Elysées. Who knew that just a month later, on Novem­ber 13, 2015, Paris would be wracked by ter­ror­ists in nu­mer­ous places, leav­ing 130 dead and 20 in hos­pi­tal.

But the French are re­silient, and a year later, though tourism may have less­ened, re­turn­ing to my favourite city, I could only be struck by how won­der­ful it re­mains. I prac­tised my French lan­guage skills on taxi driv­ers and it was like meet­ing a mini-United Na­tions. It was de­light­ful to speak with men from Afghanistan, Brit­tany, Ge­or­gia, Haiti, Iran, Pak­istan, Sene­gal, and Tu­nisia, all of whom said the ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in Paris or its sub­urbs was only fifty per­cent bad, the bad be­ing that it’s ex­pen­sive and they found Parisians brusque, un­smil­ing, even hyp­o­crit­i­cal. I’ve heard the same thing from Amer­i­can tourists but never found it to be true. The sig­nif­i­cant thing that they told me was that their wives and chil­dren all wanted to stay in France.

As I walked the streets, I no­ticed no sig­nif­i­cant

in­crease in armed se­cu­rity. In­deed the gold statue of Joan of Arc never glis­tened so vis­i­bly, and the cen­tre­piece of Place Vendôme, the col­umn cov­ered with bronze plaques made from Napoleon’s vic­to­ri­ous Euro­pean bat­tles, had just been re­stored to its full glory. On a pre­vi­ous visit, I couldn’t even en­ter Notre Dame Cathe­dral be­cause the queue of tourists, mainly Chi­nese, stretched for over a block. This time, I en­tered in the even­ing just be­fore a re­li­gious ser­vice, and, though al­most full, ev­ery­one was wel­come.

Af­ter­wards, my hus­band and I crossed the River Seine to Brasserie de Notre Dame on the left bank, where the waiter thought­fully turned on the over­head heater so that we could sit out­side and en­joy the view of Notre Dame all lit up against the night sky. I com­pli­mented him on be­ing so nice, and he re­sponded with a wry smile: “Only to nice peo­ple. Too many of the younger gen­er­a­tion are badly brought up!” My hus­band and I tried our first selfie, try­ing to get the cathe­dral in the back­ground with hi­lar­i­ous re­sults. Our arms just weren’t long enough.


The next morn­ing, I met my Parisian girl­friend at the Fon­da­tion Louis Vuit­ton in the Bois de Boulogne with our pre­paid-com­puter-gen­er­ated tick­ets to view the hottest ex­hi­bi­tion in town. For the first time since the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment con­fis­cated Rus­sian tex­tile busi­ness­man Sergei Shchukin’s (1854-1936) mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion of 127 French paint­ings, they have been re­assem­bled in one place. “The Icons of Mod­ern Art: The Shchukin Col­lec­tion” is on view through Fe­bru­ary 20, en­com­pass­ing works by Monet, van Gogh, Gau­guin, Matisse, Pi­casso, and oth­ers. He col­lected them over a pe­riod of 15 years when much of this art was con­sid­ered too avant-garde, even shock­ing. They were dis­played in his home, the Tru­bet­skoy Palace, un­til the 1917 Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion and Lenin na­tion­alised the col­lec­tion in 1918.

Di­vided among sev­eral places, pri­mar­ily in Moscow at the Pushkin State Mu­seum of Fine Arts and in St Peters­berg at the State Her­mitage Mu­seum, an enor­mous diplo­matic col­lab­o­ra­tion took place to cre­ate this ex­hi­bi­tion since guar­an­tees had to be given that resti­tu­tion claims from Shchukin’s heirs would not be en­ter­tained while the paint­ings are in France.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin was to open the ex­hi­bi­tion as well as ded­i­cate a golden-domed Rus­sian Or­tho­dox Cathe­dral near the Eif­fel Tower, but Rus­sian bomb­ings of Aleppo, with French Pres­i­dent Hol­lande call­ing them war crimes, led to Putin’s de­lay­ing his trip. Nonethe­less, art lovers are flock­ing to take ad­van­tage of this event.

A visit af­ter­wards to com­pare Shchukin’s/Chtchoukine’s col­lec­tion with paint­ings by the same artists at the Musée d’Or­say led us to also view the fas­ci­nat­ing “1852-1870 Spec­tac­u­laire Sec­ond Em­pire” ex­hi­bi­tion, which ends Jan­uary 15, 2017. We saved a visit to the Lou­vre Mu­seum for the next day. I.M.Pei’s mod­ernist glass pyra­mid en­trance com­pleted in 1989 was in such strik­ing con­trast to the Lou­vre Palace’s gothic, re­nais­sance, baroque, neo-clas­si­cal, etc, grand ar­chi­tec­ture that to be hon­est, I hadn’t taken the time to ven­ture into the huge mother-lode of art since the pyra­mid had been added. What an amaz­ingly at­trac­tive shop­ping com­plex and mu­seum en­trance has been cre­ated un­der­ground! Choos­ing to view North­ern Euro­pean paint­ings, we had the gal­leries there al­most to our­selves. Next time, I want to take the guided tour of Egyp­tian an­tiq­ui­ties, sec­ond only to those in Egypt it­self.

We capped our Parisian visit off with a de­li­cious Chi­nese meal at the ele­gant Shang Palace Restau­rant within the Shangri-la Ho­tel, and an­other night we dined with French friends at the Penin­sula Ho­tel. This was the week that the “jun­gle”, the mi­grant camp in Calais, was be­ing cleared and mi­grants were be­ing bused to nu­mer­ous towns through­out France. De­spite this, well over a thousand had made their way to north­ern Paris, camp­ing out near the Stal­in­grad metro area. San­i­ta­tion was be­com­ing a prob­lem and the gov­ern­ment vowed to – and did – clear the area, bus­ing these mi­grants to other lo­ca­tions by the end of the week.

Our friends said their re­sponse to the mi­grants in Paris was to seek the aid of an NGO to find some­one in need. Last year, they took into their home a 33-year-old Syr­ian man to live with them along with his four chil­dren, who spoke no French. They de­scribed how the chil­dren had made signs with French words, tap­ing them to ob­jects through­out the house. It was the youngest girl who just took the man’s hand, led him into their home and started teach­ing him French.

De­voted to the child, that week, the Syr­ian was go­ing for his first job in­ter­view, now that he can speak the lan­guage. Not ev­ery­thing in Paris is about ter­ror­ism and fear. There is still so much to cel­e­brate.


Col­umn in Place Vendôme. Laura Tanna


Statue of Joan of Arc.

A view of Sacré Coeur from the Musée d’Or­say.

Mod­ern un­der­ground en­trance to the Lou­vre Mu­seum.

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