Where beauty is valued, life takes on a shimmering quality; a sense of ease settles on the soul. I recently returned from two weeks in France where I felt that shimmer and that ease.
I spent most of my time in Paris, which certainly ranks highly in the category of beautiful cities.
Beauty seems to be a way of life in Paris. Thank the Goddess Paris was spared the bombings of World War II and Her ancient buildings still thrive. From Her origins on the Isle de la Cité, to the early medieval expansion into the Marais on the right bank and the Latin Quarter on the left bank,
to the modern glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre, home to kings and queens for centuries, and the very quirky and modern Pompedieu Center, the pride taken in building with beauty remains. Every few steps brought me to a halt as I admired the architecture, the flowers and the trees.
Even the subways and bathrooms are beautiful. And speaking of bathrooms the French have got us beat on openness. In some of the smaller towns, it’s not uncommon to find a unisex bathroom, with the urinals and the wash basins in the same room, which leads to one or two stalls with doors. So a woman goes into the stall and when she comes out there just might be a man using the urinal. Oh it’s all very discreet – his back is to you and you just look down and hurry out without washing your hands.
But seriously, Paris is an amazing city. The neighborhoods, called arrondisments, all radiate out from a central circle, square, or triangle. This creates a city of connecting circles. Maybe it’s all those circles that keep the French so in tune with the joy of life, la joie de la vie.
Every other step you’ll find a cafe with tables and people spilling out onto the sidewalk. Even in cold weather, which apparently happens in June too, people are sitting outside, as many cafes heat their sidewalk tables.
Most of my time there was cold, grey and drizzling. And yet it’s still beautiful. Now I understand why there are so many paintings from the early 1900’s of streets of Paris with people walking and carrying umbrellas.
Oh and let’s not forget all the outstanding art to be found in the many, many museums – what an inspiration! At the d’Orsay Museum, after first seeing their permanent exhibit of the Impressionists, I then visited a special exhibit of work by Degas, Degas and the Nude. I loved the way the curators of the exhibit showed the progression of his work and explained some of his techniques. The Pompedieu had a special Matisse exhibit which also explained some of his processes. I think I’ll be trying out some of those techniques.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I saw the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum, Delacroix’s work and studio at the Delacroix Museum, the very famous Mona Lisa,Venus de Milo , work by Botticelli, Giotto and many other greats at the Louvre.
My final museum visit on my last day in Paris was to see Monet’s waterlilies at l’Orangerie. Monet donated the paintings to Paris after World War I. He hoped that the beauty he found in nature and expressed with his paintings would help people heal from the wounds of war. He also hoped that his work would help maintain our vital connection to nature which he feared was being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. I don’t think I was the only visitor who found a spiritual experience viewing his art.
Of course the many, many old churches house some very inspirational art. I’ll be posting more details on the churches and the museums in future posts. In addition look for info on our trip to the medieval cathedral and town, Chartres, and to Carcassone. Carcassone, in the Languedoc area of Southern France, has a fascinating history of courtly love, religious heresy and ultimately massacre.
So now I plan to learn French. I’ll definitely return, next time for a longer stay, perhaps to the Lanquedoc.