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Orsay can you see …

I tried a new schedule today – working and errands during the day, museum in the evening. Try the Musee d’Orsay at six p.m. on Thursdays, a friend had advised me, as it’s the only night the museum stays open late and all the tourists eat at six. I got there at ten to six, and though there was a boisterous clump of Italian schoolchildren ahead of me in the line, we got in fast. When I left at 8 p.m., two star-studded hours later, there was a long line-up outside, even at that hour. So, there’s a Valuable Tip for your next trip to Paris. 

Even if there were no paintings, Orsay would be worth the visit just for the building alone – that cathedral-like massive inner space with vaulted, decorated ceiling and spectacular gold clock. But of course there ARE paintings, just a few. I went straight to the top, the Impressionists and post-Impressionists, and breathed a sigh of pleasure and recognition as I started the tour – Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Fantin-Latour, Renoir, Gaugin, Seurat, Bonnard – many of their greatest works that I studied in school as a child.  And others, previously unknown – a tiny Manet canvas of one asparagus stalk – just beautiful. A Monet of a  young boy almost hidden among tall plants in a dark apartment. Still lifes that make you want to always arrange your fruit so it’s spilling onto the table. The almost menacing intensity of Van Gogh, the sweet pinks and blues of Monet, the wondrous calm of Cezanne. 
It’s helpful that they all painted both themselves and each other, so we can put faces to the work. There’s a portrait of the painter Berthe Morissot by Manet – who knew she was very beautiful? And in a group portrait by Fantin-Latour, there’s Rimbaud the poet, his hair wild, looking about twelve years old. The artists are usually portrayed dressed in dignified suits, with big beards – not the wild starving-in-a-garret painters of Paris that we imagine.
After an hour gorging myself on the top floor, I went down to the ground, saving the middle floors for another day. Another wander round, with lots of sitting to watch the crowd as well as the canvases and sculptures.  But after an hour and a half, I find I can’t take much more in, try as I might, and I did try. Emerged into a stunning Paris dusk, the fading sun gleaming on the Louvre across the river, and walked along the Quais to Boul’ Mich’ to get my bus home, gazing into the windows of very exclusive shops, including one that sells only antiquities from the Middle Ages. I was thrilled to see two Paris flics – police – huddled over a street map. I guess they, too, have to figure out where they are. 
Stopped at the nearest grocery store on the way home to buy two necessities, milk and wine. There was an entire wall of selection, ranging in price from 3 euros to 25. So I bought a bottle of 4 euro Bordeaux to have with dinner. It smells a little bit of socks, but it’s drinkable. 
I raise a glass of wine, my friends – to artists, who have so enriched our world. 



2 Responses to “Orsay can you see …”

  1. Carolyn says:

    I’m jumping into the breach for Bruce. I’m his sister-in-law Carolyn. You know Karen, mother of Angus. I am wife of brother Stan.

    I find your blogs too short! I could read them forever. I love the feminine perspective. I have turned my friend Roberta onto them in hopes she will go to Paris. Stan and I have not done a lot of traveling but have been to Paris and Provence and fell in love with them. I would like to go for all our trips–another way of “settling in”. Unfortunately, one of our sons has moved to Sweden so we will have to go there. Paris will have to be enroute.

    The reason I am brave enough to enter the world of blogging–which Stan says is akin to drugs– is your description of going to the top floor of the Orsay. We went there with one-half hour to spare during the strike of ’07. We were looking for Degas’ “Little Ballerina” which we had seen and heard about on a CBC TV series called The Impressionists (what a wonderful series and we were wondering if it was related to the series you mentioned about writers in Paris). We ran, as only 60 somethings can, from the top of the museum to the bottom with no luck. We asked about the little statue at the bottom and they said she was at the top so we will have to wait until next time.

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog and looked to see if you did one during your trip to India. Looking forward to a book!

  2. beth says:

    Carolyn, thank you so much! Several friends have also written to say they don’t find the posts too long – so Bruce, who is so often right, may be out-voted on this occasion.

    The ballerina is in a glass case in the centre of the Toulouse-Lautrec room. I loved, yesterday, seeing his obvious pleasure in women and girls – not, like Renoir, the more obvious bits, but their hair, their legs, their necks. Really lovely.

    I do hope you come back to visit her and the magnificence all around her.

    And yes, I love blogging. I kept a journal of our India trip and tried to sell several articles afterwards, including one about Bruce, Chris and I riding camels in the desert, but found no buyers. So all that material is just sitting there, whereas here, as my adventure unfolds, it’s out in the world. I’m glad you’re enjoying it along with me.


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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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