Joana Vasconcelos Versailles

Joana Vasconcelos Versailles

Joana Vasconcelos has created a collection that fits in Versailles. Her attention to the details of this space are impressive. Take the marble lions, Guards, she has upholstered with perfect (doily!) covers or the ostrich feather and Swarovski crystal embellished helicopter she has landed in the midst of a gallery.

For the garden, she has created an enormous teapot and vase. She has two pendant hearts; one black, one red. On the way out the door, she offers her own version of stained glass. And, her enormous high heels, composed of pots (and their lids) and titled Marilyn, remind us that this exhibition is both pleasing and meaningful.

To meet Vasconcelos and get a taste of her work, go to: http://www.vasconcelos-versailles.com.

Lost

Lost

On the busy street it is difficult to hear the metal fall to the ground (or maybe it was in his hand the whole time), then he fakes finding a gold ring, shows it to you to confirm that it is indeed precious. You have found something together. His fingers are too big (or he is forbidden from wearing jewelry by religious custom or he’s willing forgo his share of the discovery – for a fee).

You are probably carrying a camera; your attire betrays you, or maybe it’s the fear on your face that pleads, “I don’t know a lot of French—yet.” You’re in the Grand Boulevard area of Paris, on your way to the Musee D’Orsay.

You’re wondering if you’ll be able to differentiate Manet from Monet, whether Renoir is as impressive in person as the print you remember from your in-laws’ bedroom. You have no idea that you cannot distinguish this man from the hordes of pickpockets who’ve had their sights on you.

Amour

Amour

French: Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé.

English: There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.

–George Sand

In addition to stilling the swans and rowboats in Bois de Boulogne, the smoking moped riders and women with toy dogs, the startling architecture and art, M is cataloguing Paris’s various lovers in hot embraces and unusual intertwining. They are all around us, and they have no concern they are being documented.

When one man heard we had never visited Paris before, he said, “Welcome to your second honeymoon.” People seem to be honeymooning everywhere. In fact, we have seen six brides posing across from the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and on various bridges in a variety of scintillating dresses and towering shoes. A photographer and his helper (and the groom!) trail each like paparazzi to fold her into a variety of poses and further into the depths of her dress.

The railings of the Pont des Arts (a bridge that crosses from the left bank to the Louvre), above the Seine, contain thousands and thousands of padlocks, cadenas d’amour. Lovers go to the bridge, fasten the lock (adorned with names, dates, messages), and toss the key into the river to symbolize everlasting love.

This evening a fifteen-member ska band appeared on the lovers’ bridge, their brass reflecting the setting sun, their playing better than their singing, their love for this art form filling the almost autumn sky.

Illumination

Illumination

Two nights ago, we returned to the Eiffel Tower in the dark. On the hour after nightfall (nine), the Tower lights up. It looks like thousands of tiny flash bulbs are going off all over the structure. I exclaimed, “Look, it is taking pictures of us!”

During the display, two small girls (probably six and eight) tried to take M’s phone (he had put it down between us as he was using his Nikon). They instigated a form of shell game in the dark; they put some advertisements, as in a grocery circular or something similar, on the grass and were pointing at things they wanted. It was as if we asked them to compile a shopping list, but we had not invited them into our space. In the end, after M confronted them, one put her hands above her head. In the confusion, one must’ve dropped the phone because it was close by in the grass. This all happened in less than two minutes, and then M returned to taking photos.

There are actual shell games played on the route to the Tower (for willing participants and fifty Euro a game). There are men selling key chains, shooting stars, and tiny lighted Eiffels that alternate primary colors in the night sky. In the grassy area where people recline on the cool lawns to watch the light show, other men hawk beer and champagne over our audible awe.

There are souvenirs everywhere. My favorites are the glimpses of the Eiffel as we emerge from a tunnel, round a corner, look up from the dark.

Vert France

Vert France

The restrooms have air dryers and low flow flushing options. Most restaurants don’t offer plastic water bottles. There are large green containers on the sidewalks in many parts of the city to collect bottles. I have seen waiters, as part of their duties, leave restaurants to deposit containers in these receptacles.

In most grocery stores, one has to has her own shopping bag or pay 0,30 Euro (about forty cents for a sturdy reusable, plastic bag), or more for a fancy one depicting landmarks of Paris.

One Metro stop (Palais Royal) features an exhibit on the importance of recycling. Recycling leads to innovation and artful reuses of everyday items. Consequently, the display is both pleasing and meaningful.

Multilingual

Multilingual

I have heard stories about Parisians impatient with people who speak only one language, but I have witnessed instead a willingness to help on nearly each occasion my words have failed me (and this is a lot). Looking for the laundromat was especially daunting as I cannot keep left and right in my brain, but a man at a Chinese restaurant and a woman at a vegetable stand pointed me in the right direction (right across from my hotel). I was several blocks away at the time. They do not offer directions with street names (in fact they do not seem to recall them), but they know that after two rights it will be on the left hand sie in the middle of the street.

At dinner time, we vacillate between using the translated menu, or not. I know the words for some of the things I do not like to eat and the surprise for finding new dishes I might never have been introduced to had I known the words in the first place. Many restaurants not only have menus translated in English. They have multiple other languages to accommodate the foreign visitor.

In the Louvre, they offer a plethora of maps in languages including: Arabic, Chinese, Deutsch, English, Espanol, Francais, Italiano, Japanese, Polski, Potugues, and Russian. Even the descriptions of the artists, galleries, and time periods (but not plates captioning each piece of art) are multilingual.

The maps are color-coded, the English speakers carry red; the French: turquoise; the Chinese: hot pink. This makes it easy to pick out people with a common language (though often very different accents; take the two US military couples from Texas visiting the Louvre from a base in Germany and talking on the phone with one of their mothers in Alabama). The color-coding promotes camaraderie (and opportunities to meet other English (or slow-talking Spanish) speakers) and necessary (though not guaranteed) discretion when people watching.

The Louvre

The Louvre

I love detailed instructions, especially in clear words (rather than illustrations or maps). This is not an advertisement, but the Rick Steve’s Pocket Paris not only does fit in a large pocket, but it gives detailed information about what to see, how to view it, and how long it might take. While I am sure he did not visit the Louvre on free museum day (the first Sunday of every month) and his estimate of two hours to skim through the Louvre was laughable, his recommendation to look at the gargantuan depiction of The Last Supper opposite the Mona Lisa before trying to get a peek at her was excellent preparation for viewing tiny Mona. This juxtaposition was constant in the Louvre, enormous side by side with miniature, all with breathtaking detail.