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City of Light, part 6

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 3, 2013

EAST (5TH & 12TH ARRONDISSEMENTS) AND WEST (7TH ARRONDISSEMENT)

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Don’t shop on Sunday, or for that matter, on a Monday in Paris. My wife and I metroed to Rue Mouffetard for a little sightseeing and shopping on a Monday, only to find the street all but shut down. The Metro ride to the 5th Arrondissement required three separate lines, plus the weather when we arrived threatened rain that never quite materialized. We’d been to this famous shopping street on a previous Paris vacation, on a Saturday if I recall, so this time Rue Mouffetard was a virtual ghost town. The tourist destination begins as rue Descartes, running until rue Thouin before becoming rue Mouffetard. The medieval street is quaint enough, all narrow, cobblestoned and meandering, replete with a passage or two, from Place de la Contrescarpe running downhill to Square Saint-Médard, lined with tiny shops and eating establishments of every imaginable kind (even a cinema). That length is pedestrian only during most the week, and jammed with people during that time. Not so on the Monday we visited. I’m not a big fan of all-day shopping experiences, but the subdued atmosphere, plus the overcast skies, definitely put a damper on the whole outing. I tried to locate an academically oriented bookstore (with books on Foucault, Leotard and Lacan, some even in English) from a previous vacation, which had been on rue Descartes, but was either closed for the day or permanently shuttered. And of the two Vietnamese restaurants serving a very limited selection of pho soups, one was so bereft of customers it turned us away and the other closed early between lunch and dinner. Overall, a disappointment.

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Bercy Village (Cour Saint-Emilion) in the 12th Arrondissement was the opposite experience. Not medieval and charming at all, but sleek and modern. The shops and restaurants and cinema here were high end and expensive, and the layout was spacious and mall-like. The rustic edifices and street cobblestones were entirely faux, so machine regular as to be annoying. A tent lot behind the main avenue featured home decor vendors. About the only thing I enjoyed was the Asterix exhibit. We gave Bercy Village a quick once over before taking the Metro out, and this too was a three metro line ride.

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A quick comment on the Metro. Out in the 12th, the Metro stations are new and sleek, with one station on the Bercy Village line even stopping on the inside of the track, and another station offering a tantalizing glance in passing of an underground garden. When we disembarked at one station and took the escalator up to catch a connecting line, we witnessed a couple of individuals desperately running down the up escalator, only to realize at the upper platform that the police were checking passengers for tickets. We’d been stopped on a previous vacation by the gendarmerie at the sprawling Montparnasse–Bienvenüe metro station for a check of what was then our universal Carte Orange passes. The police had been in full uniform and well armed, and they’d also asked to see our passports. (“Américain,” one said to the other.) This time around, it was the Navigo Découverte pass and the gendarmerie in the Metro wore white shirts, but they were no less efficient, noting that my wife and I had failed to sign our passes. We witnessed a sting involving both uniformed and undercover police with what we assumed were illegal immigrants at the Place de la République metro. The Gendarmerie Nationale are obvious, though not ubiquitous, throughout Paris.

Moving from East to West…

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We got to the Musée Rodin (79 Rue de Varenne) in the 7th Arrondissement, though not to the other Musée Rodin, the villa des Brillants (19 Avenue Auguste Rodin), Rodin’s old studio/workshop/residence in the 15th Arrondissement. This was a treat for me, though not so much for my wife. The museum proper is in a modest French château (the hôtel Biron) situated in lush gardens sprinkled with statuary, all next to the magnificent gold dome of Les Invalides church. Crunching along the gravel paths, under mature trees, among grass and shrubbery landscaping, and beside reflective pools and fountains, we encountered The Thinker, Balzac, Eve, Ugolin, Orphée, the Three Shades, the Burghers of Calais, and the Gates of Hell, among the many famous outdoor Rodin statues. The marbles gallery provided views of unfinished work, and the blooming rose gardens were outfitted with a mysterious ethereal soundtrack of female vocalizing. The indoor museum was less impressive, with marbles, bronzes, and less weather proof terra cotta and plaster pieces, including The Kiss. Unfinished and partial pieces are also part of this collection, which featured a large number of female nudes, some of them quite graphic. There were also a few of Rodin’s sketches, and an original Monet as well as a van Gogh self portrait. My wife was not fond of “the same old story,” that being of the artist and his female “models” (read “serial mistresses”). Yes, there were several representations of the artist (always male, old, bearded, patriarchal) being “inspired” by his muse (always female, young, attractive, nubile). By that standard, virtually ALL of French artistic expression has been epitomized by aging, lecherous, male painters, sculptors, photographers, poets, writers, et al depicting their female models. Why single out Rodin?

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We sojourned to the Musée du quai Branly (37 Quai Branly), the final stop for this post. There we were overwhelmed by the 4th biannual images of the world (4ème biennale des images du monde) exhibit which featured the previously unpublished works of 40 non-European photographers, 35 displayed outdoors along the Seine and 5 indoors in the Branly Museum.”This year, all the images presented relate to the human figure: landscapes, objects, fashion or architecture appear in the form of elements that accompany the human being” and they were featured on huge kiosks, formatted digitally and massively. This exhibition was brilliant, outstanding, thoroughly engaging, beyond superlatives. As a footnote, an oddly costumed individual trucked around an equally odd “sculpture” of melted plastic objects on wheels. He claimed to be a part of the exhibit, though that could not be independently verified. In all, the 4ème biennale des images du monde was the highlight of our visit to the 7th Arrondissement.

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