Day 60 - a hair-rasing experience from the 5th, through the Ile de la Cite, along the Seine, and ending at the Tuileries, no room at the in at the Grand Palais, Monet's and Laurencin's at Orangerie and the Jeu de Paume, saved by Saines Saveurs
I hijack Rob's carefully planned metro itinerary to get to the Grand Palais, Orangerie and the Jeu de Paume. He's booked us bikes on Paris Velib, just in case. I think back to Versailles, sailing along the fountains, the shadows of tree trunks flickering past us. I add this memory to Paris Respire and decide it's a good idea to ride our Velib bikes to Notre Dame, along the Seine, and stop at the Tuileries. We can even see the Velib stand from our window. "There's only 3 left," shouts Rob. He's so excited about getting onto the bikes that only later, he realises there's no CF card in the camera. We're on our phone cameras for the rest of the day.
Turns out, Paris Respire, when cars are barred from roads on Sundays, only exists in certain pockets of Parisian arrondisements. There are still a string of big city roads to ride through. During the ride, Rob remains reassuring. "The drivers here are really forgiving," he keeps saying. Which might be true. No one beeps at me as I wobble along on my turn onto the bridge leading through the Ile de la Cite. When we finally find our way to the quayside walkway along the Seine, I am in a lather and too high-strung to enjoy autumnal Paris. In a fit, I leave Rob behind and we catch up only later, when we have to put our Paris Velib bikes back in a stand under the Passerelle-Leopold-Sedar-Senghor.
I learnt how to ride a bike when I was 8 or 9; newly landed from the Philippines to Wellington, New Zealand. My oldest friend taught me in her backyard. I remember circling round and round and round the concrete expanse; the clothesline dead centre.
I didn't ride a bike again until my early twenties; once on a fun wine-tasting outing with friends when I managed to crash into a sign on the flattest, most dead straight road you've ever seen with no cars about; the second, on Miyajima Island in Japan. There weren't any cars there either; only deer eating my takeaway sushi straight out of my front basket.
Later, Rob bought me a hulking white mamachari from Trademe. It was owned by a cabaret singer, who'd just come back from Japan. As of today, I tend to only ride my bike along the waterfront, dodging only pedestrians and rarely venturing onto city roads.
Car drivers in Wellington are unused to sharing their roads with little two-wheeled vehicles. There are hardly any bike lanes. Most of the people on bikes are of the hardcore lycra variety; not the I'm-here-to-get-from-chore-to-chore variety. You see them in their skintight gears on Sundays, calves pumping up all the many hills in Wellington. Biking in Wellington CBD is frankly a little terrifying to someone who leans towards hyper and anxious more than stoic and calm.
We intend to go to Paris Photo at the Grand Palais first but the lines were prohibitive. Also, entrance was 30 euro each. After that disastrous morning where I realised I would never win the Tour de France, the Orangerie's massive Monet waterlilies are a beautiful balm. When Monet designed the pavilion to showcase these paintings as a respite from war-torn Paris, I don't think he imagined how much I would appreciate the blank white-walled calm and meditative waterlilies and willow trees after my Paris biking experience. I have to promenade round and round the two Waterlily rooms several times, taking my illegal camera phone pictures and trying to get back to normal.
Downstairs, there's a smattering of Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and Rousseau.
The Matisse painting's are super exciting to me because there's a mix of paintings done in Nice and some in his flat in Paris, overlooking the Notre Dame and Ile de la Cite. Shirley Neilsen Blum's Rooms with a View taught me everything I know about Matisse. Later in the week, in a fortuitous run-in, I find the French version of this book at Premier Page, a discount art book store across the road from our apartment.
I'm enchanted by the delicate Marie Laurencin paintings, framed in a bevelled mirror and almost dancing off the walls with her graceful lines and almond-eyed ladies in beautiful pink dresses. I'm an instant fan. Behind me, Picasso has painted his stolid geometric shapes in different shades of brown, pretending he's drawing a figure of some sort but obviously too over it to draw properly. Whatevs, Picasso. He can naff off. I'll take Marie's pretty ladies with their dogs and pearls in their hair and quite strange black-eyed, head-tilted stares.
Standing in front of Rousseau's painting of a ship, I think Wes Anderson and the Life Aquatic. Out of all the artists in the Orangerie, Laurencin and Rousseau, in my opinion, are the most now.
For lunch, Rob can't find the ramen place he wanted to go to on his map. We succumb to the fast and easy temptation of the crepe/waffle/hotdog/baguette stand at the Tuileries exit. Our hotdogs are less than lukewarm and we both put so much mustard on them, we wince and our eyes water. A total lunch fail. My impatience is blamed for this one; the ramen placed has closed and won't open again until 7 pm. Our mood and luck, which only vaguely picked up at the Orangerie, takes a nose dive after an hour and a bit standing in line in the rain for the Garry Winograd exhibition at Jeu de Paume.
There's timed entry but still the gallery is crowded. The pictures are small and spaced closely together. Everything is black and white and it is street photography at its purest; focused on faces, backgrounds obscured to the point where it could be anywhere, an aim for the universal and the ephemeral all at once. It leaves me cold. Or maybe it's the bad hotdog sitting funny. The night is saved by a strong late afternoon coffee at Saint Medard followed by a baba au rhum and a charlotte aux framboises at Saines Saveurs across the road from our apartment. The man behind me makes impressed noises at my beginner's French. I think, more like, he's impressed that I'm trying. My ability to pick between "fraises ou framboises" gets his tongue clucking. If only impressing people were so easy.