Just back last night from a week in Paris with a group of friends – 47 of us in total. Every two years we descend on a European city (or two), and this year it was the turn of Paris.
The Musée Marmottan houses a large collection of Monet paintings, but to my mind these are not his best. They seemed to me to be the ones he had left in his atelier when he died. There are some by other artists, such as Morisot and Guillamin, but not their best work either.
I was stunned by the ‘Gothic’ architecture and medieval stained glass windows in the Sainte Chapelle, and next door, the Conciergerie impressed with its wonderful 13th century main hall. It was converted to a prison during the French Revolution, and it held Marie Antoinette and many others before their short journeys to the guillotine. Poignant and thought-provoking. It must have been a vicious, lawless and brutal time, but that’s not unique.
On the same day we took a trip to the sewers of Paris, which was fascinating. The engineering challenges of dealing with a city’s waste are immense. Of course it was whiffy, but the walled garden I work in is next door to Haddington’s sewage treatment works, so bad smells don’t put me off.
In the afternoon we went to the brand new Musée de Quai Branly, an ethnographic museum featuring cultural artefacts from all over the world. I was disappointed, because while the objects were grouped by continent, there didn’t seem to be any other underlying organising principle for the objects on display. I think most people expect that in a museum; they look for some kind of order on which to hang their internal narrative, and I couldn’t see this here. And I think the place was more about its own architecture and design (admittedly stunning) than informing visitors about the peoples of the world.
On our ‘free day’ DunbarJane and I went to the Musée d’Orsay, one of my favourite places in Paris, and here we were able to see the best Monets, together with many other wonderful impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The richness of the collections here is staggering. In the evening six of us went to Restaurant Bel Canto, where the waiters are students of singing. Between serving courses of the most wonderful food I’ve tasted in years (I will long remember the flavour of the perfectly cooked John Dory fillet I had), they sang solos (Massenet, Wagner, Puccini), duets (Mozart) and quartets (Verdi’s Rigoletto). It was a breathtaking experience, and I will unreservedly recommend it to anyone visiting Paris. Book it online before you go.
We took a trip out to Chartres cathedral, for a guided tour by Malcolm Miller, the leading expert on the cathedral and its stained glass windows, including the one meant to be ‘read’ boustrophedonically (go look it up). Malcolm was terrific – erudite and witty – and I learned a lot about the Biblical story and its depiction in medieval cathedra.
In the evening we had our traditional farewell ‘bash’ in the local restaurant, with singing by folk from Linlithgow’s twin town of Guyancourt (our organiser and others are active in the twinning association), and the infamous exchange of ‘tat’ purchased earlier. The aim is always to go for the most tasteless objets to swap, and there were many fine examples on show.
On our final day, with loads of time to spare before the flight, Jane & I took off on our own for the Père Lachaise cemetery (which I will blog about later), lunch in the Pompidou Centre (which I love), and a leisurely walk down to the Chatelet square and a seat in the warm sunshine, before our coach arrived to take us back to the airport.
Memorable, and great fun.