L’art pour l’art

Picasso, Dali, and milk cartons.

It’s been too long since I last wrote to the explorers that find this tiny thread among the interwebs. I have no excuse to offer other than that life experiences pushed me off my path.

For those of you who have written blogs at one time or another, rekindling it is a daunting task. I contemplated whether I should start a new one or if I should just abandon it completely. Even now I feel tangle of excitement and embarrassment as I write this.

To kick-start the blog, I asked my friend, writer, and world traveler, Anna Tomas Moreno, to grace this blog with her presence. Below, she shares her thoughts on the annual Gràcia festival. While I was living in Spain, friends took me to witness this wonderful happening of neighbors banding together to create ephemeral art. Without further ado, I’ll let Anna capture the true spirit of the festival…

Anna and The Kiss

L’art pour l’art at Barcelona

When I write about fine art or urban art (which comes from the hands of neighboring communities), everything flows, everything finds its proper place. I get carried away by a delicious stream that never sways as an illogical tide… Because that’s art. Live, feel, dream.

Tableaux of Artists

When my friend Maria invited me to contribute to her blog with this post on Mozart Street during the Celebrations of Gràcia in Barcelona (just a second and I’ll explain more about this festivity), I really started analyzing the concept of “urban art” and what value we give to certain pieces. Can we laugh of art? Can we make fun of it? Can we modify it?

Habermas and then Andy Warhol showed us the power of Art commercialization. I must admit it, it’s dizzying to think about quantifying the value of masterpieces like “Las Meninas” by Velázquez, the “Guernica” by Picasso, Modigliani or even Van Gogh.

“Les festes de Gràcia”, an annual festival in one of the most popular districts of Barcelona, has been held for decades already. Streets in the Gracia neighborhood competes among themselves to achieve the best exterior decoration. Each street transforms their space from one side to the other of their narrow dimensions. Only recyclable materials can be used, so the neighbors spend weeks before asking all residents to donate used objects such as water bottles, newspapers, and milk cartons.

Litchenstein in Paper Clouds

Litchenstein in Paper Clouds

Every street secretly picks a theme and brings it to life. This happening is truly an amazing act of community spirit that still exists nowadays. All their collaborative efforts culminate with a summer week that allows visitors  to walk through different themes and locations, from Japan, the Paris of the twenties, the world of Avatar, or in this occasion through a different Art Museum in Mozart street. The neighbors decide whether each of their creations goes with the theme, the materials used, and if the tone should be a parody or honest, to faithfully recreate their vision.

Calder Canopy

Calder Canopy

For this one week, the streets of Gracia illustrate just how elaborate urban art can be. The immersive and ephemeral nature of the exhibits create fa truly magical experience. Each day I wandered the streets, I discovered a different piece. Even through the most poignant and ironic interpretations, I felt trapped by the installations artistic beauty. Even while typing my visceral experience, I still feel like I can touch the artwork, even with the tips of my eyelashes.  Far from what we think some times, art is there: in every corner of our city, our room or/and every human being.

Ode to Girl at a Window, 1925

Ode to Girl at a Window, 1925

Therefore, I think it’s true, and more when it comes to artistic semantics and experiences: a picture is worth a thousand words. This is why I leave you with my selection of the Museum Mozart, which won the 5th position in the competition, even if I considered, like many more, the first place, specially after crossing all the streets with camera in hand.

Ode to The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893

Ode to The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893

Can we laugh about art? Yes, of course, and give our version accommodate it, and defend it or criticize it. Art is a broad discipline, involves everything we do, even a gesture. A brush or piece of chalk often makes us smile for its ability to highlight the passionate intensity of many spirits. And, last but not least, it shows that, in the end, life is nothing more than the pursuit of delicious golden crumbs.

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Paris III

Paris III – Day IV

Worth the wait and the selfie sticks.

  • Before I fell asleep, I thought, “After I stop for a pain au chocolat, I’ll just mosey on down to that jewel of a museum, the Louvre.” Too bad it was 9 am when I rolled out of bed. By the time I arrived at the old palace, there was a long coiled line waiting for me.
Louvre Lobby

Louvre Lobby

  •  It was really wonderful to see so many people waiting to walk through the galleries of the 13th century monument. After about an hour of waiting, I was trying to stay positive. At the same time, I secretly wished someone could hold the line for a coffee run or that there was a fast pass for those that were not there to just see the Mona Lisa.  It’s true I sound prickly but you really could tell who had come for selfies by the sticks locked and ready in their hands. Regardless, it was pretty amazing to think about the thousands upon thousands of people who still visit museums, especially in this”digital age” when many artworks are available online.
History of The Louvre

History of The Louvre

Historic note: “The first stone of the Louvre was laid in 1202. Originally designed as a major stronghold (thought it never came to be used as such) and a treasury. Not a palace to be lived in, it was only in the reign of Charles V (1364-80) that the Louvre, with windows struck through Philippe’s grimly functional arrow-slits and with fancifully decorative pointed roofs superimposed, became a palace fit for a king.” – Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris: Portrait of a City

Vue de la Grande Galerie, Victor Duval, 1880

Vue de la Grande Galerie, Victor Duval, 1880

  • Two hours later, I finally made it pass the stone threshold. I bought my ticket and quickly plotted a plan of action. With only five hours to look at hundreds of works, I had to prioritize and make some tough sacrifices. Anything not French, was out. This was a research trip after all. “Focus, focus, focus…” I constantly chanted as I passed tempting exhibitions. First priority, was to focus on the building. Viola, the heroine of The Histories of Idan, would soon sneak around these lofty wings and I needed to have enough details to describe them to readers.
Staircase

Staircase

  • While I studied my surroundings, I noticed no one really looked closely at the building. If it was not so important for Book II, I might have missed a lot of details as well. Although the building has changed substantially since the 18th century, like many buildings in Paris, it has its layers.  When you peel away one layer of paper or paint, a different taste of a different era is exposed. As one of the first museums in the world, it has morphed from a fortress, a palace, artists’ studios, and finally into a haven for art and its admirers.
Fortress Foundation

Fortress Foundation

  • After focusing on the building, I made me way deep under the museum to study its fortress beginnings. From here, I went up to explore the Rococo, Neo-classical, and Romanticism galleries. It was exciting to imagine, Viola scurrying around corners of the palace searching for forbidden live drawing lessons or spying on artists in their studios.

“The Louvre was both the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture  and the Académie d’Architecture. It held collections, artists’ studios, and lodgings were found in various odd corners of the building described as long badly lit corridors with endless stairways. The artists’ apartments were like little birds’ nests up beneath  the roof.” – Howard C. Rice, Thomas Jefferson’s Paris

Self Portrait, Jacques Louis David, 1794

Self Portrait, Jacques Louis David, 1794

  • As my time began to run out, I had to see Leonardo. For Lost in the City of Flowers, I had spent so many hours reading about THE Renaissance man, that I couldn’t leave without paying my respects. On my way to visit the Italian master, the number of visitors thickened. I stopped a long while at the Virgin of the Rocksbefore visiting Leonardo’s main squeeze.
Italian Wing

Italian Wing

  • Hopefully, the picture I snapped, speaks for itself. Although I had seen Leonardo’s work once before in a temporary exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., seeing his work again, was an emotional moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of the visitors near me had read  Lost in the City of Flowers and that maybe it changed the way they thought about Leonardo da Vinci? To some of my fellow visitors, he might be more than the man who painted the Mona Lisa. 
Mona Lisa's Room

Mona Lisa’s Room

  • With some more time and help from Viola, people might look at the Louvre a bit differently.  No longer will it be a vessel for art but a reflection of our rich collective history.

Versailles

Day III

Late start, gold panels, chilly gardens, and royal life.

  • Our jet lag extended all the way to Sunday. To my horror, we woke up at 10:00 am on the day planned for our trip to Versailles.  I huffed and puffed all the way to the train station. Jorge tried to lift my spirits and make me feel less like a total research failure.  I was feeling pretty “hangry” too but would not stop to waste another minute.
Arriving

Arriving

Historic note: During the early 17th century, the palace of Versailles began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII . Throughout the rule of Louis XIV,  Louis XV, and Louis XVI, the royal château expanded into one of the largest palaces in the world. For over 30 years the royal seat and its grounds have been included in UNESCO´s word heritage list.

  • Once we arrived at Versailles, my whole perspective changed. From a great distance I could see the palace’s gilded gates against the grey sky. That’s when I started to get really excited. For over ten years, this estate has been on my top ten places to visit.
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Private Dinning Room of Louis XVI

  • A week before our trip, I signed up for a tour of the kings’ (Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI) private chambers. The tour was enlightening as it totally changed my earlier notions and interpretations of the palace. Our tour guide was French gentleman with a heavy accent but perfectly charming. The whole time he spoke, I was in a state of constant bliss. He was incredibly knowledgable and well spoken, each word thoughtfully chosen and observations to the point.
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Kings’ Staircase

  • We entered the palace through the kings’ private entrance. Whether through decoration or function, much of  the apartments were focused around hunting (a favorite pass time for all three monarchs). After the guards’ room,  we climbed up the stairs that lead into an antechamber.

Observation: The walls were elegantly decorated and not overly saturated. The textiles and paneling boasted mostly ochre, green, and gold palettes. All of the furnishings were designed by master carpenters and inlaid with the most exquisite woods.

  • From the antechamber, we passed through the kings’ dinning room, and then moved onto their private sleeping quarters. Our guide also emphasized the incredible lengths the Versailles estate takes to recover, restore, and preserve its furnishings.
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Bedroom

Historic note: After the royal family was removed from Versailles. The new political state auctioned off much of the palace´s royal furnishings. In this way, they helped finance their budding regime. All of the current furnishings at Versailles have been re-purchased or gifted back. Some still linger in museum or private collections around the globe.

  • We winded through a sequence of rooms that included the study, library, secret meeting room, and bathroom before we reached the chapel of Versailles. One of the cabinets in the study, is the most expensive piece of furniture at the palace. Its estimated worth is roughly 11 million euros. The rich mahogany piece has an even richer history. It was auctioned off to a member of  the English royalty, then to the Rothschild family, and then stolen by Hitler. Eventually the sideboard made its way back to its intended place.
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Rich

  • They were hosting a private concert in the holy space but as we were on the tour, we were able to sit and admire the lux green marble and Baroque decorations of the church.
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Hall of Mirrors Portrait

  • After our tour, we explored public areas of the palace. The difference between the private and public domains of the palace was striking. If I had not taken the tour, my impression of Versailles would have been different. The public and ceremonial portions of the palace are heavily adorned and clash with the elegant interiors of the kings’ private quarters. Celestial ceilings hang over the lofty chambers connecting different sections of the palace. Floral prints and bold colors cover the walls of each room. Thick embroidered fabrics falls from every canopy and sifts the light from every window.
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Panel Detail

Historic Note: Our tour guide emphasized that more than anything, protocol and ceremonies were  a means to entertain the nobility. If they were concerned with their own status, who would be invited to which party, who could sit,  who had to stand,  then they would be less concerned with issues of state.

  • The palace’s sense of ceremony and theatre impressed me more in person. Although the almost comical nature of Versailles’ ceremonies is shown in popular movies like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, the ridiculous nature of Versailles’s etiquette and protocol is even more incredible in person.
  • Once we explored the palace, we spent the late afternoon walking through the extensive gardens. Before entering Marie Antoinette’s retreat and the Grand Trianon, we stopped for hot chocolate at the Petite Trianon.
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Gardens

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Marie Antoinette´s Village

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Courtyard at Petite Trianon

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Temple of Love

Spoiler: The day we spent at Versailles was my favorite. Despite the crowds of people, it was completely immersive. Like time traveling… 

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Grand Trianon

To be continued…

Paris II

Day II

Fortresses, graves, hot chocolate, and a toothache.

  • In short, “Day II” was a walk-a-thon around some of the older parts of Paris or less renovated by Baron Haussmann´s 19th century reconstruction. We started by taking the metro from Montmartre to  Place de la RépubliqueFrom there, we walked down the Boulevard du Temple. In the late 18th century and up until the revolution, it was the place to be and be seen.

Historic note: The Boulevard du Temple follows the path of the city wall constructed by Charles V (between 1356 and 1383) and demolished under Louis XIV. The boulevard, lined with trees, was built between 1656 and 1705. From the time of Louis XVI (1774–1792) until the July Monarchy in 1830, the Boulevard du Temple was home to a popular fashion: it became a place for walking and recreation. Cafés and theatres previously at the Saint-Laurent and Saint-Germain fairs moved here. After a time, it was nicknamed the Boulevard du Crime after the crime melodramas that were so popular in its many theaters. In 1782, Philippe Curtius, Madame Tussaud’s tutor in wax modeling, opened his second exhibition on this Boulevard. – From Jefferson´s Paris, Howard C. Rice.

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  • We stopped at this landmark which is all that´s really left of the Paris Temple. A medieval fortress built in the 12th century by knights impassioned by their crusade mission. Over the years the fortress expanded and evolved into a prison. The same prison where Louis XVI and his family were held captive. This stone ode outlines the demolished building in the left corner.
  • From Place du Temple, we walked to the Hôtel de Ville. This grand edifice has been the seat of the Paris Municipality since the early 14th century. It was also the stronghold of the French Revolution in 1789. More on this building in the next book.
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Hôtel de Ville

  • It was hard to imagine men like Robespierre and Danton professing their manifestos in square that was being used as an ice rink and with the smell of warm crepes wafting through the chilly air.
  • From this political powerhouse, we took a side trip to the Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Although it has only been around since the beginning of the 19th century, I was still interested in walking through this city of sleeping souls. France has moved many famous persons to this cemetery including the famous lovers Abelard and Heloise.
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Jim Morrison´s Grave

Fun fact: My holiday read, Forbidden Fruit: From the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, was leant to my by a friend of mine, Heather. While she was studying in Paris, she purchased the book at the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. The lovers and their words deserve an entire blog post but for now, I suggest readers pick up a copy.

  • After our nostalgic walk, we traveled back to the Marais district and stopping by the Place des Vosges. This beautiful plaza is the oldest planned square in Paris and  was once a literary hub for writers and dreamers alike. The author Victor Hugo once lived in one the tall buildings with iron balconies that overlook the pleasant park. Today, the square is lined with contemporary art galleries and cafés.
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Place des Vosges

Travel woe: Jorge had a seriously bad toothache, so my concern and his pain slowed us down a bit. HE was a terrific sport about it. It was lucky that it did not happen to me because I´m a real baby about that sort of thing.

  • Place de la Bastille was our next stop. Unfortunately, the Bastille, a fortress built in the 14th  century, no longer stands. It was destroyed by Louis XVI after the famous Bastille Day, (July 14, 1789) when hundreds of people stormed the fortress in search of arms and prisoners. Even though History has enveloped it completely, I still wanted to visit its sacred foundations. I cannot see it but Viola  and all those that read her upcoming adventure will.
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Pyramid

  • Clearly the best way to end the day was with a steamy cup of chococat chaud. Jorge and I swung by the Louvre to catch a glimpse of the lit pyramid before shuffling down Rue Rivoli to reach Angelina´s. This particular tea room boasts the best hot chocolate in Paris. Jorge is a chocolate aficionado and was willing to make the hour-long line. I was skeptical but eventually enticed by the romantic setting glowing from beyond the glass doors. I have to admit that after the chilly wait, it was well worth it. The room was dressed in holiday attire with wreaths and strings of light. The divine chocolate flowed like syrup but was not overly sweet. A heavenly way to complete the day.
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Angelina´s Hot Chocolate

 

To be continued…

 

Paris I

Last week was my first week in Paris… Ever.

I planned and plotted this trip around research for the next book in the Histories of Idan series. Before I boarded the plane, I meant to have a seamless itinerary but our travel plans unraveled for serendipitous reasons and because of a serious case of jet lag.

In the next few posts, I will add some of my Parisian observations as well as my itinerary for that particular day. Ready, set, jet!

Day 1

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Apartment in Montmartre

  • We arrived in Paris on a Friday morning. Specks of water hit our glasses and cheeks as we made our way from Montmartre´s Lamarck-Caulaincourt station up to the apartment we had rented on AirBnB. Our host, Antoine, greeted us with a bottle of champagne and some local tips about the neighborhood.

Historic note: During the days of Vincent van Gogh, Montmartre was known for being Paris´s artistic neighborhood, but also for St. Denis´s decapitation and the nocturnal scenes of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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At the Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, 1892–1895

  • Although eager to return to the streets of Paris we had a power nap. Then I did what any sensible person would do, I ate my first authentic croissant at the pink boulanger (119 rue caulaincourt) around the corner from our apartment.

Observation: Winter rain is different in Paris. It falls in minute drops, that barely spray your face and clothing. It´s almost hard to tell it´s raining but for the slippery stone pathways and shallow puddles. The closest thing to it might be Portland, Oregon´s drizzle but it seems to come fall from all directions instead of from above.

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Café Crème and Croissant

  • We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. The main reason we went to this museum is that Jorge, my partner in crime, is an Exhibition Designer at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Science Museum in Miami. The inspiring woman who conceptualized all the institution´s amazing accessibility initiatives, guided us through the many exhibitions. Herself being blind, she was attentive to every label detail as well as extremely knowledgable about all visual aspects of the museum. Meeting her was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life because of her accomplishments but also her humility. In addition to being naturally kind, she was more humble than anyone I have ever met.
  • On our return trip, we zigzagged down towards the center of Montmartre, past La Basilique du Sacré Couer, and got our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Which, to be honest, is much more magical than I had anticipated. We walked down to the rue des trois frères until we reached Lánnex restaurant. There we supped on duck breast, honeyed potato mash, asparagus, artichoke purée, and a variety of cheeses. We washed down the savory dinner with a smooth French red. The service was awesome because there were only three couples in the restaurant. Lánnex is a wonderful secret, if you are ever in the neighborhood.

Fun fact: I took about three years of French in college but I´m sad to say, I speak poorly. My pronunciation isn´t terrible though, so I tried my best. I found that French people really appreciated it when I tried to speak French. Even if we ended up speaking English. I kept trying to answer at least partly in French. Consequently, I always felt well treated everywhere we went. No one was rude to us but instead affable and curious.

To be continued…