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Days 6-7 Paris
I got back to New York yesterday. My last two days in France consisted of pleasant but fairly conventional tourism. Saturday Dave and I wandered around Montmartre, which is the "artist's district" one sees recreated on sound stages in An American in Paris, now largely a souvenir dispensary. It's still a gorgeous neighborhood of narrow angular streets, built on a hillside topped by the striking, mosque-like Sacre Couer church; historical markers tell you where famous artists and writers once lived. We strolled (actually elbowed our way) around the "artist's plaza," watching tourists shelling out money for street portraits and bad Impressionist knockoffs. The waiter at a cafe there advised me to keep my backpack under my seat. On the steps of Sacre Couer, street vendors with plastic buckets full of soft drinks and bottled water scatter like cockroaches every hour or so to avoid the gendarmes, who make perfunctory confiscations.
Sunday Dave, Trish, and I went to the Louvre, which has been much remodeled since I visited ten years ago. The highlight of my last trip, the collection of outrageous chimerical statues looted--sorry, taken for safekeeping--from Mesopotamia, was unfortunately closed, but the Sackler galleries of ancient Iranian reliefs and palace architecture, refurbished in 1997, are breathtaking. A group of half-men/half-lions, carved in profile into beige and turquoise relief tiles, is as sparingly and tastefully installed as a Donald Judd show, blending ancient and modern sensibilities. In the German painting section, I spent some time pondering Cranach the Elder's weird painting The Age of Silver. In this Edenic scene, all the figures are nude; on the left hand side of the panel, lovely women (for Cranach) cuddle with exquisite, happy looking children, while in the center and right a group of men beat the crap out of each other with wooden staffs. Is the message really as simple as "women good, men bad"? Was Cranach the Andrea Dworkin of his day?
After two weeks abroad, I was surprisingly happy to come back to New York. On the airport bus, everyone was bickering, but at least in wasn't in mandatory French! (I know, my US-centrism is showing.) Also, dirty as our subway cars are, they're so much better designed than Parisian ones. In Paris, half the car space is taken up with a few rows of fore-and-aft-facing seats, allowing exactly 16 people to enjoy a quaint, 19th Century style ride in the car's center while the rabble stands cheek to jowl at either end. Quel merde!