Tag Archive | Paris

L’Aquarium de Paris

I’m behind on my Paris posts, but this is the last one! Toward the end of my visit, Isabelle, Olivier, and I took the bus and the metro to Trocadéro and crossed the plaza in the middle of the Palais de Chaillot, which was full of tourists milling about and taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine. We wended our way downhill within the Jardins du Trocadéro. Our destination was the Aquarium de Paris and, specifically, Hanami, the temporary outdoor Japanese street food café the aquarium had set up. The menu was pan-Asian but with a Japanese focus.

Hanami by the Aquarium de Paris (nobody wanted to sit in the sun!)

At the counter, we ordered takoyaki, three kinds of yakitori (one type was beef, actually), two kinds of dumplings (duck and veggie–in French, dumplings are called raviolis, although at Hanami they might’ve called them gyoza?), and sweet potato fries for good measure. It was sunny and very hot, but some of the (rustic) tables were under a wooden roof, so we were able to sit in the shade. The food was tasty!

Part of our lunch

Next, we went into the aquarium and followed the path through the various exhibits and sections. The Aquarium de Paris is focused on the sea life of France, but France in the sense of its global empire, including its overseas territories in more tropical climes. There were digital panels on the walls that asked True or False questions (aimed at children, judging by the color schemes), and one that struck me was about the largest lagoon in the world. After revealing whether the statement had been true or false, the text noted of the two lagoons (the largest and the second largest?) that “both are French.” That is, they belonged to France. I think one of them was in New Caledonia, and the other was also in the South Pacific. It was very…colonialist.

The kissing fish! They kept doing this; it was very cute.

That aside, the exhibits were pretty nice, with lots of colorful fish. No mammals, however, unlike at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquarium de Paris is known for its Médusarium, which features many species of jellyfish. Somehow, they still seemed harder to photograph than the jellyfish in Long Beach.

Nemo!

Garden eels

A little pufferfish

This last picture of moon jellies comes with a good story. I thought it was one of my better aquarium photos but not intrinsically that amazing. Still, I tweeted it after our visit, and thanks to a few lucky retweets, this became possibly my most successful tweet ever (not that that’s saying much). I hadn’t tagged the aquarium, but somehow its Président Administrateur général found the tweet and replied to it, thanking me (in French) for the beautiful photo :O

Moon jellies

L’Hôtel de la Marine

In early July, while I was still in Meudon, Isabelle, Olivier, and I went to l’Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde in Paris to see the exhibit “Gulbenkian par lui-même” (“Gulbenkian through himself”). Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in the Ottoman Empire who became a fabulously wealthy oil magnate and an art collector with a dazzling collection. When Isabelle and I were in Lisbon, she (but not I) went to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and saw some of his treasures, which was what made her want to go to the Paris exhibit. (The Lisbon museum now houses most of Gulbenkian’s collection, but when he was alive, he kept his collection at his home in Paris.)

Qing Dynasty jar (famille noire) with 16th c. velvet hanging from Bursa in the background, both from Gulbenkian’s collection

L’Hôtel de la Marine is a very grand and imposing building, with a colonnade and pediments. It faces the Place de la Concorde, with its gold-tipped obelisk, and has views of the Eiffel Tower beyond. La Marine is the Navy, and the building housed the Ministry of the Navy from the French Revolution to 2015. (I didn’t know all of this when we actually visited; I looked it up for this blog post.) Before that, it housed the royal Garde-Meuble, the office in charge of the king’s furniture. It was first built in the third quarter of the 18th century. The fact that the building was for the Navy until 2015 probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it before this trip.

L’Hôtel de la Marine is now a multi-faceted museum. A relatively small part of it is long-term host to the Collection Al Thani, a different art collection assembling pieces from ancient civilizations. This was the collection of a Qatari sheik. The Gulbenkian exhibit was on display in one gallery inside the Collection Al Thani space, so on our visit, we first passed through two galleries with items from this collection.

The first room reminded me of photos I’ve seen of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. It was very dark, there was black all around, and it was hard to tell where the walls were. Hanging from the ceiling on black strings were hundreds, maybe thousands, of gold ornaments about the size of the palm of your hand. They looked like a cross between a snowflake and a chrysanthemum. They glittered in the lights shining from above, and the effect was kind of like moving through a very orderly swarm of mechanical butterflies. Evenly spaced throughout this small room were eight or so items from the Collection Al Thani. They were all fairly small and displayed inside tall narrow black and glass cases. There was a Mayan jadeite mask-pendant, the inscribed jade wine cup of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, a golden bronze bear from Han China, a 4,000-year-old gold rhyton in the shape of a deer…

Bear, China, Han Dynasty

The next gallery was long and narrow, leading from the first room to the temporary exhibition room, and it was dedicated to sculptures of human heads, from many different cultures and eras. It sounds weird when put that way, but it was actually very cool: all these individually rendered faces, produced long ago by people from around the world. One 4,000-year-old terracotta head was from Mesopotamia; the head of a princess carved from quartzite was from the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt. There was a 2,000-year-old Nok culture head from Nigeria, and the head of a statuette of Serapis, carved from lapis lazuli. There was a jade mask from Guatemala and a gold one from Gandhara. There was a 2nd century chalcedony head of the Roman emperor Hadrian and an 18th or 19th century Fang wooden reliquary head from Gabon. The diversity of features, expressions, and styles assembled in one gallery was quite compelling.

Head of an Amarna princess, Egypt, 1351-1334 BCE

Beyond the row of faces was the Gulbenkian exhibit. It occupied a single rectangular room, but there was an incredible number and variety of pieces on display. The information panels on the walls emphasized that Gulbenkian sought only the finest works of art, items of truly exceptional artistry and craftsmanship. And his interests were very broad: this selection from his collection included everything from a fragment of an Ancient Egyptian statuette to Safavid rugs and illuminated manuscripts, from Chinese porcelain to Japanese lacquerware, from 18th century French books to René Lalique jewels, and much more. The sheer breadth of his collection and the number of treasures assembled in one room was almost dizzying.

Ottoman and Ilkhanid ceramics, from present-day Turkey and Iran

Manuscript of a ballet by 18th c. French composer Pierre de La Garde

We left the temporary exhibit through a gallery parallel to the one with the heads. In this last room displaying items from the Collection Al Thani, we saw quite a few more small artifacts from antiquity, including a Sumerian lapis situla (bucket), an Ancient Egyptian obsidian cosmetics vial carved in the shape of a duck, a Sassanid silver rhyton shaped like an antelope’s head, a Tibetan banquet service made of gold and encursted with mosaic turquoise birds, a gold lunula (crescent-shaped necklace/collar) from Bronze Age Britain or Ireland, an Olmec pendant plaque made of jadeite and bearing a Mayan inscription, and plenty more. This gallery led back to the infinity room, and then we exited the Collection Al Thani.

Gold plaque, Tibet, 600-800 CE

Our tickets to the exhibit included much of the rest of l’Hôtel de la Marine (though there was a separate part–the intendant’s apartments–that required a different ticket). We got to wander through the reception rooms and also go out onto the loggia, with its collonade and view across the Place de la Concorde. The reception rooms were very ornate: high ceilings, tall, narrow doors, parquet floors, gigantic chandeliers, wood paneling, mirrors, elaborate molding, curtains drawn back with tasseled cords, classical imagery, and tons of gold.

The reception rooms

In a room just before the loggia, there was an interactive display about French maritime history. You could follow different historical figures, and the first one I was presented with was Marie-Louise Victoire Girardin, an 18th century Frenchwoman who disguised herself as a man and went to sea, joining an expedition to Australia and the South Pacific.

The loggia

After leaving l’Hôtel de la Marine, we took the metro to Batignolles and walked through the Square des Batignolles to go to Pastelaria Belem, a little Portuguese bakery and restaurant. We wanted to eat pastéis de nata, like we had in Lisbon (though in fact there’s a little Portuguese-accented supermarket right near Isabelle and Olivier’s apartment where we also bought frozen pastéis de nata twice). The bakery looked a little bit like Pastéis de Belém, home of the original pastéis in Portugal, insofar as there were azulejos on the walls and paper napkin and cinnamon dispensers on the tables. Before we went in, we noticed a big multi-colored cat dozing on a chair inside, next to the window. We ordered three pastéis to eat at the bakery and three to take home, plus Compal fruit juices, like we’d drunk in Portugal. The proprietress told us the name of the cat, which was something like Abada, but not that. He wasn’t as easy to photograph as we’d hoped, though he briefly approached our table before disappearing behind the counter. Ah, well. The pastéis were delicious.

An apartment building in Batignolles

À la rencontre du petit prince

I’m visiting Isabelle in Meudon again, and at the end of June, we went to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris to see the exhibit “À la rencontre du petit prince” (“An encounter with the little prince”). The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is right by the Louvre, but I had never been there before. We actually caught the last day of the exhibit (although Isabelle and Olivier had gone before).

English first edition of The Little Prince with a dedication by the author in French to Annabella Power

According to the museum, “À la rencontre du petit prince” was “the first major museum exhibition in France dedicated to the timeless literary masterpiece, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.” It was a big show (many rooms!) that explored seemingly every moment of Saint-Exupéry’s (tragically rather short) life, as well as the writing and publication of Le Petit Prince. There was a lot of emphasis on his dual identities as a writer and an aviator and on his humanistic vision of the world. On display was the original manuscript of Le Petit Prince, which is normally kept at the Morgan Library in New York City and had never been exhibited in France before. There were also scads of drawings, sketches, and personal letters in Saint-Exupéry’s own hand.

The little prince and the fox

I think I first read Le Petit Prince in 7th grade, in my French class. But I believe we also had a copy at home, so maybe I had looked at it before. I was very taken with the drawing of the elephant inside the boa constrictor. I also imitated others of Saint-Exupéry’s drawings, especially an image of two overlapping hills with a lopsided five-pointed star overhead, which I drew in the margins of a lot of school notebooks.

The little prince watching the sunset on his planet

I don’t know how many times I’ve reread Le Petit Prince, but it definitely had more of a lasting impression later. When I was in college, I wrote a story (which wound up basically novel-length) about a group of teenagers living on their own in a closed environment. One day, they discovered a hidden room in their living space. It was a library of books and music. They all began reading different books, and the main character discovered The Little Prince and was stirred by some of the passages in it. (The story was probably not very good; the premise was that the teenagers were sent unsupervised on a generation ship to populate a new planet, and a rogue member of the team that conceived the project built the library into the ship to break the teenagers free from their stultifying existence and state of forced ignorance.) Anyway, this story prominently featured my favorite part of Le Petit Prince, which is the little prince’s encounter with the fox. Isabelle also loves this part. In grad school, she made me a pin with a tiny book inside a glass dome, and on its pages she penciled an excerpt from the conversation with the fox.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s contract with his U.S. publisher for The Little Prince

Returning to the exhibit, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in 1900 in Lyon. His father died when he was young, and his family scattered (boarding school, living with relatives, etc.), but they kept in close touch via letters. Many handwritten letters to his mother, from throughout his life, were on display in the museum.

Stamps of various countries featuring the little prince and Saint-Exupéry the aviator

Saint-Exupéry was taken with the idea of flight from a young age and became a pilot during his military service. He then worked as a mail pilot, flying routes in North and West Africa and South America. His flights inspired his first novels, published when he was around thirty. The exhibit went into quite a bit of detail about pretty much everything, so there were lots of photos of airplanes, a flight log, newspaper clippings, illustrated advertisements for airmail companies, various editions of all of Saint-Exupéry’s books… There were quite a few pictures of Saint-Exupéry too, and Isabelle and I agreed that he bears an (unfortunate?) resemblance to Mr. Bean.

Saint-Exupéry’s writing and art materials

In 1935, Saint-Exupéry and his mechanic, André Prévost, attempted to beat the record for fastest flying time from Paris to Saigon. They crashed their airplane in the Libyan desert and eventually set off across the dunes in search of help. Saint-Exupéry encountered some fennec foxes during this sandy trek. He and Prévost were ultimately rescued by Bedouins. As the exhibit pointed out, this episode inspired the opening of Le Petit Prince (and probably the fox too).

First editions, in English and French, of The Little Prince

After the Nazis invaded and occupied France in 1940, Saint-Exupéry went to New York to help persuade the United States to enter World War II. While in the U.S., he published a war memoir, but it was also in New York that he wrote and illustrated Le Petit Prince. The book was published in 1943 in both French and English in the United States; it wouldn’t be published in France until after the war, in 1946. Saint-Exupéry wanted to fight for France, and he returned to Europe to fly military missions. Apparently he didn’t fit in that well with all the young pilots, since at this point he was in his forties. Only a year after Le Petit Prince came out, in the summer of 1944, Saint-Exupéry and his aircraft disappeared during a reconnaissance mission. He was probably shot down by a German plane. He was recognized as having died in service to France.

Unpublished illustration of the little prince, with the narrator’s hand in the foreground (ultimately, Saint-Exupéry decided not to show the narrator in any of the book’s illustrations)

One room of the exhibit was dedicated to the original manuscript of Le Petit Prince, although there seemed to be pages from several versions, which was a bit confusing. One version was the manuscrit autographe, which is the one held by the Morgan Library. Another was the premier état, which suggests an earlier version…? I have not figured this out. In any case, it was cool to see the pages of the book written in Saint-Exupéry’s own hand. Le Petit Prince is dedicated to Saint-Exupéry’s best friend, Léon Werth, but somewhere in the exhibit, there was a letter he wrote to his wife, Consuelo, in which he said he regretted not having dedicated the book to her. He and Consuelo had a tumultuous relationship echoed by the relationship between the little prince and his rose in the book.

Manuscript (premier état–first draft?) of the first chapter of Le Petit Prince, with the iconic elephant inside a boa constrictor

In another room, there were draft chapters and illustrations that didn’t make it into the final version of Le Petit Prince. In the book, the little prince visits a number of planets inhabited by odd characters, and Saint-Exupéry apparently came up with some other characters, like a crossword puzzle fanatic, that he ultimately cut. There was also a scene in which the little prince walked into a house where a couple was eating dinner, and they basically ignored him.

The little prince and a baobab, surrounded by those lopsided stars

The last room in the exhibit displayed over a hundred different translations of Le Petit Prince. The book has actually been published in nearly five hundred languages, often with a version of the original cover but sometimes with art by another illustrator. I always love seeing the same title in a bunch of different languages and scripts. In this case, it was a testament to how broadly this slender and deceptively simple book has resonated.

Réunion Creole translation of Le Petit Prince (other translations on display included Basque and Breton editions)

Trip to Meudon

Given that we are still in a global pandemic, I didn’t think I would get to visit Isabelle this year, but then the stars aligned, and I spent last week with Isabelle, Olivier, and my godcat Æncre in Meudon, France. It was a pretty quiet trip, but here are a few highlights:

Flowers on the way to the Forêt de Meudon: cornflowers, California poppies, love-in-a-mist, and more

A heron and some large turtles on a log in one of the lakes in the Forêt de Meudon

Walking in the Forêt de Meudon (a reprise of 2020)

Æncre the adorable

Goodbye, France!

Return from France

I returned to Minnesota this week after spending nearly 90 days in France. If you’d asked me in the winter how I thought my spring was going to go, I could not have envisioned what actually came to pass! But I feel very lucky to have gotten to spend the entire French confinement, as well as the first phase and a bit of the déconfinement, with Isabelle and Olivier outside of Paris.

A walk in the Forêt de Meudon

Writing-wise, I ultimately had a very good confinement. (This is not to promote any kind of if you haven’t learned a new language or launched an online business during quarantine you’ve failed at the pandemic sentiment. No one needs to do anything more than do their best to make it through.) I sank back into drafting what I hope will be my next book, and when it looked like the finish line might actually be in sight, I strove to cross it. I finished the rough draft (emphasis on rough) on my last full day in France. Toward the very end of my stay, I also made two short story sales within a week; I hope to have more to say about those stories soon.

I have returned, of course, to a country still grappling with COVID-19 and lit by a renewed uprising against violent racism and police brutality. I have returned to the city that sparked the latest protests. Like I said at the beginning of the pandemic, I don’t have much to say that others aren’t already saying better. But we must all be doing the work. Here’s something I wrote almost exactly three years ago when the police officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted. I think we need to be thinking seriously about what role, if any, police forces should have in our cities. What would it take to abolish the police? In the meantime, take care of yourselves, your family, your friends, and your communities.

 

Paris

After the conference in Lisbon, I spent most of the last week of June with Isabelle in Paris. I hadn’t been to Paris, or to France, since 2011, when I studied abroad in Grenoble, and it was wonderful to be back. We stayed with Isabelle’s parents in their apartment in the 16e arrondissement. Forthwith, the highlights:

Sunday

With Isabelle’s partner Olivier, we went to visit our old haunts in the Latin Quarter. First we got off at my old metro stop, and I successfully led us to the apartment building on rue des Écoles where my family lived in the fall of 2004 during my father’s first sabbatical. Then we went to Henri IV, the celebrated school where Isabelle did her prépa. (In 2004, we tried to enroll me in Henri IV’s middle school, since I lived in the neighborhood, but they didn’t have room for me.) There was a little book festival happening in the courtyard, so the school was open to the public. We checked out the books and then wandered all over the school.

IMG_2305

The courtyard of Henri IV

We tromped through more of the 5e arrondissement (I was impressed by how many things remained unchanged) and wound up near the Seine. We abandonned the idea of visiting Shakespeare & Co. when we saw the hordes outside and instead got gelato at Amorino and walked along the river down by the water. We had dinner at the Paradis du Fruit and returned to Passy near 10:00pm. We stopped on the bridge in hopes of watching the Eiffel Tower light up, but 10:00pm came, and…nothing! Because it was still day. The evening light in Paris was wonderful; it’s the farthest north I’ve been around the summer solstice in years, and it was glorious.

Eiffel Tower, Passy, 10:00pm

Monday

Isabelle and I walked the promenade plantée and then went to the Canal Saint-Martin, both places that were new to me. Standing on a bridge over the canal, we saw a boat approaching the lock underneath us and decided to watch it go through. There was an automobile bridge that had to move to let the boat pass, but it wasn’t a lift bridge. Instead, the part of the bridge over the canal swung around on a pivot to open a passageway. A trio of shirtless young men were frolicking in the space into which the bridge had to swing, and then one of them took a ride on the moving bridge until a testy voice amplified from somewhere asked him to please get off. While the boat waited in the lock for the water to rise, a duck and her ducklings swam about in agitation.

Canal Saint-Martin

Tuesday

We explored Passy, including the cemetery, where we found the grave of a Georgian prince and princess. We found a stand inside an indoor market that sold pasteís de nata, and they were as tasty as the ones we’d eaten in Lisbon! Then we went to the Maison de Balzac, even though I am Team Zola (Isabelle is Team Balzac). The house Balzac lived in is now a museum. We visited the room with the desk where he wrote something like 18 hours a day, fueled by coffee. Not quite the lifestyle I aspire to. We also pored over the Généalogie des Personnages de la Comédie Humaine. For dinner, we went to a crêperie in the neighborhood.

We found me in the family tree. The red line indicates a lien extraconjugal.

Wednesday

My parents and brother flew into Paris and came to Isabelle’s parents’ apartment for a grand meeting of families and lunch. My family went on to southern France, and Isabelle and I met up with her friend Alice. We walked along the quais and ate shengjianbao.

Shengjianbao!

Then Isabelle and I went on the Louvre, open late on Wednesdays, and wandered through a lot of galleries of European art, eventually getting to Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, before the museum guards started herding us all toward the exits. We sat on the grass outside and watched the full moon rise over the Louvre, then walked to the Pont de la Concorde to catch the Eiffel Tower lighting up at 11:00pm.

Thursday

Isabelle and I went to the 13e arrondissement to visit some more of our old haunts, including Collège Rodin, where I went to middle school in 2004, and her old apartment, kindergarten, and elementary school. We had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and then came back to the 16e to visit the Musée Guimet, the Asian art museum. I felt like we’d barely scratched the surface of the collection before the museum announced they were closing early due to the metro strikes. We ambled over to the terrace of the Musée de l’Homme to share a glace à l’italienne and take in an iconic view of the Eiffel Tower. After stopping to look inside Notre-Dame de Grâce de Passy, the church next to Isabelle’s parents’ place, we went home and helped wrap wontons for dinner.

Detail of a Japanese screen depicting books

On Friday morning, I flew to Toulouse to join my family.