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Archive for the ‘Sebastião Salgado’ Category

City of Light, part 5

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 26, 2013


When you walk all the time, everywhere, apart from taking the Metro, your feet are bound to feel it. My wife and I each have our own podiatric issues which we managed to deal with and still have a wonderful vacation. As for the references to eating in this blog, they could have been multiplied tenfold. We considered eating and savoring the Parisian cuisine part of the pleasure of a really fine vacation. But even in Paris, with delicious unpasteurized cheese and country cured ham and freshly baked baguettes to die for, not every meal was stellar, nor even memorable. I only captured the most interesting places to eat. The same can be said for every location or expedition. Not all were noteworthy, like the times we had to visit FNAC for electronic purchases or to buy concert tickets…


marcheGalerie Vivienne in Paris
Outdoor farmer’ markets can be found in every Parisian Arrondissement. The Marché Bourse at Place de la Bourse had a distinctly international flavor to many of the stalls; one featuring Moroccan couscous dishes, brick chicken, and tagines, another selling Arabic clothing, jewelry and musical instruments, and still another serving up Indian curries, tandoori everything, and various naan . We were on our way to Galerie Vivienne so we didn’t spend much time here. Galerie Vivienne is a relic of a bygone era, an historical footnote in late 18th to mid-19th century Parisian architecture when there was a rage for constructing arcades, galeries and passages throughout the city, numbering over 140 at the period’s peak. Walter Benjamin’s unfinished literary work, The Arcades Project, a pdf of which can be found here, attempted an analysis of this architectural phenomenon, increasingly from a Marxist perspective as this project developed. Galerie Vivienne itself is a collection of somewhat disparate shops; apparel, shoes, hats, glasses, home decor, books, photography, art, dining, etc.

My wife and I ate at A priori thé (35-37 Galerie Vivienne) twice for lunch. The last time, she had the 3-cheese herb omelette and I had stuffed chicken breast. Subtle and superb. Both times I had a pot of tea; first time pu-ehr and the second time green. And we finished off with a cherry tart. I also purchased a chapeaux at Céline Robert (27 Galerie Vivienne), a fine black rabbit fur hat with the skinny brimmed fedora design that has that 1950s New York bebop jazz styling. Très chic!


The 3rd was one gallery and two exhibits for us, at the Polka Galerie (12 rue Saint Gilles). Quite an elegant photo gallery (and home of Polka Magazine) featuring, at the time we were there, the violently black-and-white photography of Daido Moriyama. His Cycle stuff is incredibly gritty, grungy, and so ugly that it is beautiful. Daido Moriyama was in the tiny front gallery space. In the back, more spacious, two-level gallery was Toshio Shibata‘s exhibit The Abstraction of Space. Shibata’s color photo’s are serene, exquisite, occasionally transcendent.


Le Marais straddles the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements. As we strolled up and down rue des Rosiers, rue des Ecouffes, rue Ferdinand Duval and rue St. Antoine in the Pletzl (the former Jewish Quarter, and even older Jewish Ghetto) we encountered groups of Hassidic Jews (all men) celebrating Sukkot (the Hebrew feast of booths) and carrying around lemons or date palm fronds or tree branches. They stopped us, offered to pray for us, and even laid on hands for some kind of blessing. Unfortunately, the Marais itself has undergone gentrification in the last decade or so. Gone are most of the distinctive Jewish bakeries, restaurants, delis, kosher butchers, and Judaica stores, replaced now by posh shops and boutiques. Goldenberg’s Restaurant and Delicatessen closed in 2007, ironically to be replaced by Goldenberg’s fashion boutique. Mickey’s Deli (23 Bis Rue Rosiers) remains, an outpost of an ever shrinking Jewish presence in this neighborhood where you can still find good falafel. The monuments and plaques to those Jewish victims of the Holocaust and anti-semitism can be found, yet I didn’t notice prominent posters or graffiti for the JDL this time around.

The Marais also has a large gay population. Gay male couples in particular are prominent on the streets. I’ll note two additional points of interest. First, Breakfast-in-America (4, rue Malher), a diner style establishment that purports to serve authentic American breakfast food. We didn’t take up their eating challenge, although we did stay long enough to marvel at their menu and decor. Then there’s Maison Georges Larnicol (14 rue de Rivoli), a sweet shop with bins and trays and jars of chocolates and cookies and candies. The place is so huge that it fronts on rue de Rivoli with a back door on 12 rue du Roi de Sicile.


The Centre Pompidou (19 Rue Beaubourg) is always worth a visit, if not a day-long stay. Unlike the Louvre, the collections of which are almost entirely “permanent” and in place with limited exceptions, the Pompidou hosts traveling exhibits of note. From the industrial architecture (that some have criticized as unfinished) to the expansive view of western Paris from its top level, I’ve quite liked the Pompidou. When we were there the last time, we did a round of the main collection. The fourth level was closed for renovation. And then there was Roy Lichtenstein on the fifth level. This was a very complete retrospective of Lichtenstein’s prolific work, from his beginnings in pop art and appropriations of comic art to his final nudes and zen-like canvases. He worked in a wide range of mediums—painting, lithography, silkscreening, ceramics, metal and plastic sculpture—his scope of materials was quite phenomenal as was his array of styles. Ever experimenting, ever exploring, it is too easy to put Lichtenstein down as a mere craftsman, no matter how skilled. His work revealed true talent and genius. This was an overwhelming exhibition.

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Finally, there was Sebastião Salgado and his latest work, Genesis, at the Maison Européenne de La Photographie (5-7 Rue de Fourcy). This was also an overwhelming exhibition, although for entirely different reasons. There were 245 photographs, all printed on a massive scale, all black and white, of places ranging from Antarctica to the African Congo to the Amazon in South America. The whole exhibit fills all four floors of the Maison Européenne de La Photographie and can be mind numbing to take in all at one time. There have been criticisms of Salgado’s photographic techniques (his unapologetic use of digital noise), his subject matter (National Geographic porn), and his epic presentation (that often reduces everything to an unrelenting sameness and flatness). There has also been criticism of his relentless commercialization of his own art in the name of “saving the planet.” I’m not interested in that so much as Salgado’s extremely naïve statements re his “love letter to the planet.” From Taschen’s publication of Genesis: “Some 46% of the planet is still as it was in the time of genesis,” Salgado reminds us. “We must preserve what exists.” And: “GENESIS, the result of an epic eight-year expedition to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society—the land and life of a still-pristine planet.” This is complete crap! The human race, the industrialized and industrializing sectors of it at the very least, have so compromised the global environment that absolutely no part of it, no nook or cranny of it, has managed to remain untouched, unaffected, unscathed and unpolluted. I seriously suspect the same can be said of the “primitive peoples” that Salgado so lovingly photographs. Virtually all of them have been visited, if not corrupted to one degree or another, by human civilization long before Salgado captured them on his digital media. But let’s give Salgado the benefit of the doubt and contend otherwise. There is still Werner Heisenberg’s observer effect in Physics. The scientist, in observing a phenomenon, necessarily changes that phenomenon. So there is Salgado out there observing his “primitive peoples,” taking pictures of them, changing them and their cultures through the mere act of being there, taking pictures, and observing them. He has fucked over all those primitive Edens and primitive Adams & Eves with the apple of his very presence!

Posted in 2nd Arrondissement, 3rd Arrondissement, 4th Arrondissement, A priori thé, Breakfast in America, Céline Robert, Centre Pompidou, City of Light, Daido Moriyama, Galerie Vivienne, Genesis, Goldenberg's, life, Maison Européenne de La Photographie, Maison Georges Larnicol, Marais, Marché Bourse, Mickey's Deli, Paris, Polka Galerie, Roy Lichtenstein, Sebastião Salgado, series, the Pletzl, Toshio Shibata | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

City of Light, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 19, 2013


A note. I’m not following a day-by-day plan here in recounting our experiences in Paris this last vacation. Rather, I’m doing it by Arrondissement, starting with the 14th and combining Arrondissements when appropriate, as well as somewhat thematically, so as to provide a slightly different structure to our experiences.

The French do parks and gardens quite differently from, say, the English or the Americans. I’m not going to do a comparison, just a description, starting with the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th Arrondissement. We visited the Luxembourg Gardens and did what one is intended to do in a French garden; stroll, relax, catch some rays or shade, and enjoy a balmy late French afternoon in late September. Everything is orderly and geometrical. There’s no grass, that is, no grass to walk on, just walking paths, stone, sand and gravel, mostly under rows of mature chestnut trees. Other plants and flowers are in specific beds. Designated areas are set aside for tennis, basketball, stables for ponies used for kiddie rides, a carousel, a puppet theatre and such. Several sculptures are also scattered about. A raised reflecting pool and fountain to the south of the Palais de Luxembourg is the focus for the various garden paths, as well as the main congregating area for most of those relaxing. My wife and I appropriated several chairs where we read our e-readers and newspapers while watching people as the sun edged toward evening.

We walked a couple of the neighborhoods around the Luxembourg Gardens, and had sweet treats at Bread and Roses (7 rue de Fleurus) and chocolat chaud at Angelina right next to the Musée du Luxembourg. In each of these establishments, it’s possible to add a pound or two simply by breathing in the atmosphere. Both Bread and Roses and Angelina have two locations in Paris. My wife had conceived of a walking and eating regimen for Paris in which she and I walked all day and everywhere, eating whatever we wanted, with the idea that we wouldn’t gain any weight. This diet worked for the two of us both previous times we’d vacationed in Paris. It worked for my wife this time around too, but unfortunately for me, it seems that my metabolism has sufficiently changed in the last few years that I did manage to gain a couple of pounds despite all my walking.

The neighborhood immediately above the Gardens, and to the east, is a bit hilly, sliced up with small streets, and crammed with shops of all description. On our way to it, we passed the Sénat building, where a minor police operation was in progress. As a small group of gendarmerie opened the gates and prepared for whatever was to go down, and as my wife and I walked by across the street, we passed an individual slouching against the building, a lesson in studied, low key casualness who kept an eye on us through surreptitious glances. Undercover cop, we whispered to each other, from our individual backgrounds in lefty politics. Sure enough his walkie-talkie squawked as we turned the corner. The neighborhood we entered is gay friendly, apparent from the gay and lesbian couples openly holding hands on the street and the posters in shop windows advertising gay events. In addition to the San Francisco Book Company, there is this stylish Euro-chain MUJI at 27 & 30 Rue St. Sulpice, and the aggregate of shops in Marché Saint-Germain-des-Près (14, rue Lobineau). The Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe is also located in this neighborhood (2 Rue Corneille), where we found a gaggle of artists occupying the stairs sketching their surroundings.

The main part of Saint-Germain-des-Près, where Hemingway and the Lost Generation hung out, is along the Boulevard and centered around the church of the same name. Alas, the Village Voice Bookstore is no more, but the Taschen Bookstore (2, rue de Buci) is prospering. The jumpy young sales clerk was busy keeping watch over all the pervy old men who were pawing and drooling over the publishing company’s softcore porn, but he did have time to talk to us about the efforts Taschen is making to promote Sebastião Salgado‘s new exhibition Genesis, including a massive book nearly as tall as my wife. More about Salgado later. Saint-Germain-des-Près is also home to Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés) and Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain), two of the more famous cafes frequented by members of the Lost Generation. Café de Flore is where we met Terrance Gelenter at the beginning of our stay in Paris, and where he holds regular office hours on Sundays. The streets to the northeast of this main drag, up to the Seine, are full of galleries selling artwork. Every time my wife and I lingered to view a particular gallery, we were approached by freelancers trying to interest us in “really good art, not this crap,” each time a different scam artist.

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Speaking of scam artists, after we walked past the bouguinistes on Quai de Conti and turned onto the Pont des Arts on one occasion to admire the locks placed along the bridge’s length to symbolize the love of so many couples, we encountered a version of three card monte in progress by individuals attempting to bilk passers-by out of their money. After warning my wife not to get roped into this scam, I suddenly felt as if I’d figured out their tricks and just as suddenly jumped into the game. The result: I lost €50 on one bet and momentarily, my pride. Fortunately, I have no gambling addictions and quickly backed away.

Onward to the 1st Arrondissement. A stroll along the rue de Rivoli which, when it runs across from the Louvre as a covered sidewalk, is an incredible pain in the ass. The shops along the street are way overpriced, the crowds of mainly tourists are a zoo to walk through, and the whole experience is like an obstacle course or a contact sport. The French have this unnerving habit of walking straight at you, bumping into you hard or nearly pushing you into the street. Now imagine mobs of who-knows-what jammed onto narrow sidewalks, all jostling to get past. Fucking crazy. We had visited the Louvre the two times previously we were in Paris and we weren’t going this time. The tourist madness on rue de Rivoli was most discouraging. Not so the concert at Sainte-Chapelle (4 Boulevard du Palais). This Gothic cathedral hosts classical music events that draw more tourists, but fortunately the numbers are limited and the events are under tight control. We enjoyed nine or so versions of Ave Maria, performed by a string quartet and sung by a mezzo soprano at the 7:30 concert. The main hall was being restored, so half of it was covered with scaffolding. The day outside was overcast, so the extraordinarily beautiful stained glass windows were subdued, not featured to their greatest glory. Yet the music was ethereal and, dare I say it, heavenly.

My final story covers our experience with L’Open Tour. This is the Hop-on, Hop-off Tour Bus that, in Paris, offers four different routes. Originally, we’d intended to take all four routes, and found the Paris Grand Tour the most extensive, and the most serene given that we started at 10 in the morning, after packing a couple of baguette sandwiches. But by the second route, the Montparnasse-Saint Germain tour, we were tired, the day was hot and humid, the bus was crowded, and the passengers were pushy and annoying. We cut the whole experience after the second route and retired to a cafe for some Orangina and a light meal. Halfway through our L’Open Tour day, and three-quarters through the Paris Grand Tour, we got off at the Jardin des Tuileries at Place de la Concorde next to the Louvre. The Tuileries has the same features as other classic French gardens, although we didn’t venture very deep into this garden. Instead, we lounged in the shade next to the reflecting Bassin Octogonal and devoured our lunch. There is nothing like a French baguette. And a baguette sandwich made of sweet butter, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, ham and/or tomatoes? Sublime. This was perhaps our most satisfying meal of our whole vacation.

Posted in 6th Arrondissement, Angelina, bouguinistes, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Bread and Roses, Café de Flore, France, Genesis, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, L'Open Tour, Les Deux Magots, life, Lost Generation, Marché Saint-Germain-des-Près, MUJI, Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, Paris, Paris through Expatriate Eyes, Pont des Arts, rue de Rivoli, Saint-Germain-des-Près, Sainte-Chapelle, San Francisco Book Company, Sebastião Salgado, series, Taschen Bookstore, Terrance Gelenter | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »