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honouring Mark Rothko

It’s 5 o’clock, or what I call Wine Time, so I’m in bed with a half bottle of good rouge, recuperating from a great deal of walking on my first day. Will get dressed and find dinner at some point, but otherwise, I’m done, just as it starts to rain. The weather went in and out again today – sun, then grey with a chill wind, but only a sprinkle of rain until now.

I managed to stay up till 8.30 last night, took a sleeping pill and – miracle! – slept till 7.45 this morning, so jet lag is done. Had breakfast in the hotel – ten euros, or $15, for a cup of coffee, a bowl of granola, and a croissant … hmmm. Tried to bring it up to my room to have in bed, but it’s interdit. Set off for a remarkably easy trajet to the Champs Elysees to find the bus to the Fondation Vuitton. Lineup for the bus, lineup to get in, and then there he is — Mark Rothko.

It’s a superb exhibition, surely the most exhaustive possible, from his earliest days to his last, with film and other archival materials along the way. A friend of his said he made “paragraphs of form, of shape.” Once he said of his canvasses, ‘They weigh a ton and suddenly they’re very light.” He made the huge “luminous, magisterial” canvasses for the viewer to achieve intimacy – to be absorbed in colour and shape. At first you see only two or three colours, but when you look more closely, they’re layered with many colours – nine, ten, more. You feel the artist working, can see his brush strokes, the rough edges of the squares and rectangles, his decisions and thoughts. He loved Mozart, Matisse, Turner.

Rothko was so very Jewish, preoccupied by death and ethics, once pulling out of a huge commission, as did Diego Rivera, because it would be for rich diners and didn’t meet his standards. He spoke of the emotion in the work, and sure enough, at one point, overwhelmed, I did cry. “He gave everything and was left with nothing,” said a friend of his, meaning the pared-down work of the end. I thought of Morandi – the preoccupation with the same shapes over and over, the courage of utter simplicity. But with Rothko there’s an enormity of vision. Powerful and very moving.

He did not have an easy life and committed suicide in 1970. Many of his last works are black and grey, very dark. But there were bright ones too.

Finally, went up to the terraces with their view of the vast green Bois de Boulogne and then down to have a sandwich in the café, beside an atrium where people were encouraged to lie down and enjoy contemplative music. It’s an incredible museum.

The bus back to the Champs, walked all the way down it with all the tourists as far as the Louvre, then across the Seine and up through the winding streets of the 6th to the Boul. St. Germain, over to the Boul. St. Michel which used to be my favourite place in 1964 and is still, it seems, of teenagers today. Stopped at a marvellous store, Simon Parapluies, where I bought the best umbrella many years ago. The stem gets a bit stuck now so I stopped to ask them about it, and they said to bring it in. The owner was there; her grandfather founded the store, and she’s in her eighties and still working there. I will definitely bring in my umbrella and buy a new one.

Finally, the bus back to the hotel, smuggling the wine into my room. My legs hurt, in the best way. I have observations about this city I’ll write some time. But all of it – wonderful. Merveilleux. Joyeux. So grateful to be here. Pictures:

It was market day on Boul. Port Royal, and there’s the travelling cheesemonger with his endless selection. Be still my beating heart.

The lineup outside the museum, with its luminous sail-like panels

Early Rothko, still discovering blocks of colour

Later Rothko

The resting room. More in the next post.



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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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