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Monday night dans la pluie

It’s 9.30 p.m. and raining hard in Paris tonight. Your faithful correspondent just came in from her latest sortie and is sampling the contents of a great new discovery: a cubitainer, like a very large juice box with a spigot. My juice box contains the equivalent of four bottles of delicious and very reasonable Médoc. I was a bit damp when I got in, but I’m not feeling the damp any more.

I just came back from the Pompidou Centre, where I returned tonight to visit my beloved Kandinsky, suspecting that a dark and rainy night might provide a fairly empty museum. I was right. It makes such a difference to be able to get close to the canvases without stepping on feet, to have space all around as you take them in rather than being hemmed in by countless gawkers like yourself. 
A bit more Médoc before I go on. Pardon me for a moment.
Back from the spigot with another glass and a pungent bit of Tomme de Brébis cheese. I can hear that rain pouring down.  Rain really reverberates in the Pompidou, which has so much plastic and glass. 
To those of you who’ve had the patience to follow me as I trail about these museums, I’m sure it’s clear that I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. I never get the … what are they called, the explaining earpieces … and have taken no courses in art history. I just look at what I see and try to understand from my very limited perspective. 
And tonight, I changed my mind. It makes no sense, I think, to compare later artists with the old masters, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Titian, Fra Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi. Those men were incredibly gifted, skilled, brilliant artists. At first glance, Kandinsky is like a child splashing colour on canvas. But of course he’s not, he is also gifted, skilled, brilliant – just from another time and place, another sensibility. Just as Leonardo translated human thought, feeling, spirituality and skill to canvas for his time, so Kandinsky, and the other great moderns, do for theirs. Ours.
I just find Kandinsky marvellous to look at – his joy in colour, in shape and arrangement and perspective, and behind the slashes and blobs, the smears and swaths, there is sense and meaning. There are rowboats and horses and mountains. He explores the rainbow – does any other artist have such a vast vocabulary of colour? The exposition shows that he was brilliant even as a teenager – the first canvases were painted when he was about 18, and the last, the year that he died at 78. The photograph at the end shows an elderly man in a dark suit and tie, standing before a bookcase filled with bottles, presumably of paint. He does not look like a trail-blazing Russian artist. 
I like the early canvasses, where he was truly exuberant with shape and colour, more than the later ones, where he got more squiggly and delicate. But the whole exhibition is a joy.
Down from the top floor through the hamster tube escalators to the permanent exhibition, though by then the museum was almost closed, and so I marched quickly through its collection of modern art, Braque, Matisse, Picasso, my eyes crossing as I gazed and walked with the seven other people who were there on this dark and rainy night. 
And when we had to leave, I opened my umbrella and went straight to my #47 bus, which took me straight home. I adore the Paris busses. On my way there, the #47 went by the Sainte Chapelle and I gazed out at its enormous stained glass windows from the windows of the bus. On the way back, we went right past Notre Dame, empty and dark tonight but still shining. 
Just a tiny bit more Médoc. I can see the problem – with a bottle of wine, you can tell how much you’ve drunk, but with a cubitainer, you can keep blithely on and on with no idea. So I will stop now. After this last little glass.
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I went to a wonderful party last night. My new friends Joanne and David Burke are kind, generous American documentary filmmakers who made their home in Paris 22 years ago. Joanne is making a documentary about African-Americans in Paris, and most of her friends, last night’s invitees, are black or in mixed-race couples. And what a non-French night it was – much hugging and loud laughter, shrieks of welcome and impromptu emotional speeches, and the food: potato salad, chicken wings, meatballs. 
It was a celebration of the Burkes’ friend Shelley, who runs a not-for-profit theatre in San Francisco but who has, like all the others there last night, fallen in love with the freedom possible in Paris. Joanne read some bits of a novel Shelley was contemplating, and decided that what she needed was time and space. 
So Joanne and David moved Shelley into the bedroom of their extremely small apartment. Every morning, Joanne would wake her ward with coffee and breakfast, and then shut the door of her office – their bedroom – and tell her not to come out till 1. No one could get in, and Shelley couldn’t get out. And when she emerged at 1, lunch was waiting. Shelley finished a draft of her novel and last night thanked the Burkes with tears in her eyes. Every writer needs a Joanne Burke, guarding the door, honouring the gift.
It’s fascinating to talk to this disparate group who have one thing in common: needing to live here, instead of there. After only a few weeks here, I can understand why. I can feel already that it will be hard to return to a place that is not beautiful, that does not cherish beauty and taste and art the way this city does. As you walk around, you see that many buildings have plaques, honouring not only patriotic heroes who have fallen in wars, but artists – painters, poets, musicians, writers – who lived and worked there. Just up the street there’s a plaque honouring a Polish poet, of whom I’ve never heard, who wrote and died in that house. Artists are valued here, and so is food, and so is a really good, cheap Médoc in a juice box. 
They may have to come and drag me out of here when my time’s up.
 

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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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