Paris! You know what it was for me back then? I was actually hoping I would find some “link” to all those French artists who lived there during the 19th century!
Years after my journey Woody Allen has made that Midnight in Paris movie, and I always thought that “he must have heard me thinking” while rushing around streets of Paris and looking behind every corner, “my thoughts must have been so loud”!
Joking aside, I was in love with French impressionists, with Van Gogh’s work, I read Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil over and over again – even began to take more French lessons so that I would be able to read the poems in French, I was in love with the 19th century France all together!
My final paper at the Faculty of Philosophy was on Jean Paul Sartre’s theory of existentialism and his analyses of Baudelaire’s personality according to the Look of Others theory. Etc, etc. You get the picture!
“You will have to rush through Paris museums, since there is no way you are going to be able to see it all. But, try to do one museum at the time and spend at least half of a day there. When you go to Louvre, keep the map of the museum in your hands and just try to close your eyes when going through endless corridors and halls in order to reach the section with the Venus de Milo statue, Nice of Samothrace, Egypt exhibition section, Italian painters, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa… Otherwise, you will stand still in awe every meter of the way!”, I wrote about my visit back in 2003.
And when ever I thought about it later, I knew I made the right decision, that was the right way to visit the Louvre for the first time.
Another great museum – L’Orsay! Former railway station that was turned into an exhibition area once and remained as such ever since. Priceless collection of impressionist works, a lot of Rodin’s sculptures, the whole room with Van Gogh’s paintings… Oh, just adorable!
The Palace of Versailles was another special place. Even though in the suburbs, it’s easy to reach by bus or train. A huge castle of Luis XIV with adorable gardens and fountains that appear before you behind every curve of yet another neat, lush small block of greenery.
The room of Luis XIV is all decorated in gold, and there is the Hall of Mirrors with 75 meters in length. Mirrors are placed in such a manor that they reflect the light from huge windows on the other side of the hall, and thus it looks as if being covered in windows on both sides. It was so hard to imagine that someone once actually lived here, woke up every morning and went through these corridors. Well, it probably took them more than half an hour just to reach the exit door!
The thing definitely to be aware of when in Paris is that on every corner one can stumble upon a building where some famous writer, poet or a painter once lived. So, don’t be surprised when you see the inscription as such: “This is where Paul Verlaine lived.”
Famous minds in the same district
Have to admit that I was well prepared, had my own “map” of “things to see in Paris”. There was the famous building in Saint Germain des Pres district, in Rue de Seine 57 where Baudelaire used to live. The same district was inhabited by Jean Paul Sartre, Claude Monet, Albert Camus. Two famous cafes Les Deus Magots and Cafe de Flore were also the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city, Pablo Picasso or Ernest Hemingway being among them! I was like a kid in a candy store!
I remember sitting at the cafe having a quick coffee, thinking how amazing that time must have been with all the great minds gathering in one place, right here!
Had the same feeling in front of one of the buildings in 22 Quai de Bethune on Ile Saint Louis, where there was another apartment Baudelaire occupied, one of many he moved to through out his life. His windows were looking over to Seine and I have stood there, thinking how the river must have looked to the famous poet who wrote Les fleurs du mal here, in this flat!
Seances in Ile Saint-Louis
Known to be a dandy, Baudelaire actually traveled to India when he was 20. He was moving a lot and living in hotels, going out all the time, dressing nicely, painted his hair in green, became an opium addict.
And he was also member of the so called Hashishins Club (another adress in Ile Saint Louis!), where he met famous artists of the time – Theophile Gautier, Gerard de Nerval, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Honore de Balzac, Eugene Delacroix. There were monthly seances that were held in the popular Hotel de Lauzun. Needless to say that I have read a lot about all of them at the time!
I even went to the Montparnasse cemetery where Sartre and Baudelaire were buried, leaving a small note on their graves. The later was buried between his mother whom he adored, and his stepfather whom he despised. It was so symbolic, there were two sides of him even in death…
Well, that was one memorable journey for me, not just another trip abroad. I did buy an Eiffel Tower souvenir of course, so touristy of me. But I have also brought back Baudelaire’s book of poems, Les fleurs du mal, in French!