one could also go to Saint-Tropez




Summertime, holiday time !!! For sea, sun and sand, please click here. (1) For meandering musings, do read on.



As you may have noticed, dear reader, I suffer from a particular nervous affliction: while sorely lacking all natural zest for useful practicalities, I definitely perk up amongst dead spirits and fantasies (2).
Not that I haunt cemeteries or study the Kabbalah – no, mine is a very humanistic kind of spirituality, finding elation (almost) only (3) when layers of man-made signs allow my imagination to reconstruct meaning & beauty.


Thus, strolling through the Parc Monceau in Paris, I could not but revel in all those traces of a certain (past) Parisian “haute bourgeoisie” way of life. There is the little pseudo-roman temple at the park-entry (which houses quite decent lavatory services - honoring the Paris habit to offer public services in style).
There are the magnificent wrought-iron gates, the stately broad park avenues with their worn iron name plates commemorating the great French writers of the past (la Comtesse de Ségur!).
And the kiosk … an iron& wood & glass construction in the best public garden tradition which sells classical (4) garden toys in merry colors alongside ice cream and lollies (& delicious croissants!).
The whole conjures up images of nannies wearing starched aprons, keeping an eye on the amusements of the well behaved local bourgeois children. The adult bourgeois locals (as well as my retrograde imagination) would of course have been enchanted also by some of the more adventurously winding garden paths, by the enigmatic Egyptian pyramid on the lawn, or by the ponderous pond surrounded by a melancholy Antique colonnade.


The surrounding broad, tree-lined streets with their marvelous mansions ooze an effortlessly elegant Parisian grandeur. A worthy neighborhood for the Cernuschi museum, which houses the (very rich) private collection of Asian art gathered by the (very rich) 19th C banker Henry Cernuschi.
The vestibule is chic and hushed, making one at once feel a privileged visitor (but entry is free!). Then, there’s the elation of mounting those regal stairs, which are flanked by two huge & exquisite Chinese vases. Only to be dumb-struck a bit later by the formidable presence of a larger than life Buddha. Then, the sheer wonder of gazing at artifacts spanning continents and millennia….
And all the time: the soothing presence of large windows looking out over a very green garden, allowing tired eyes to drift off for a while amongst sunlit foliage.


Still under the impression of the Cernuschi-plendor, aimlessly ambling on in the neighborhood, I soon stumbled on another sublime mansion turned into museum: le Musée Nissim de Camondo.

Here one is enchanted to discover the lavish tribute a Turkish born (in 1860) French banker ( from a Sephardic Jewish family who made their fortune in Constantinople) pays to the French 18th C decorative arts, the life-long object of his collector’s passion .
The interior, abounding with époque furniture, draperies, objects and paintings, is luxuriant, sumptuous …. and yet delicate & graceful – the spirit of the 18th C French decorative genius captured. And the imagination is treated to yet an extra dimension in time and space …. by an exhibit of sepia photographs of a mysterious 19th C Constantinople and of the Camondo ancestors in exotic traditional dress.


Yet, amidst all this marvel, heart & eyes are moved perhaps most by some quiet light filtering through a gauze curtain, a fleeting reflection on a glass pane, by an empty chair standing by a window looking out into the garden, or by a mere shadow in a hall-corner.
This fabulous museum is also a reminder of the vanity of riches; tinged as its history is with melancholy. Moïse Camondo, the rich passionate collector, ended up giving his collection and his house to the French state, demanding it would be named after his son and alas never-to- be heir: Nissim de Camondo, who at age 25 died in an air battle in the first world war.


Ah, pondering & wondering at signs …
Now I don't ponder & wonder only in consciously aesthetically contrived surroundings. There’s for instance this other image from my Paris-visit that lingers on: in those “Roman-temple”-lavatories in the Monceau park, behind an iron gate fencing off the service quarters from the public area, one could spot a small stock of cleaning materials, a bucket & brush-with-towel ànd a flaming red plastic toy tractor, about toddler-size.
I was captivated by that little scene, framed by pseudo-roman columns, because it was a slice of suspended life, looking as if at any moment a child would burst in and mount its toy tractor, while its parent would grab the bucket and go on about his or her cleaning chores.


Also, I could not ignore that most (not all!) of the strolling or jogging park visitors as well as most (not all!) of the museum visitors where white or Asiatic while the majority (not all!) of the attendants (in lavatories, in the kiosk, at the ticket office) were black or of Maghreb-descent. Neither could I fail to notice, on signs in the window of a nearby real estate agency, that the quoted price of, say, a 50 square meter studio in the Monceau-neighborhood is above 400.000 Eur.


But does this mean that the aesthetic and imaginative delights of this neighborhood should be shunned? Written off as mere play-things of the ruling classes, discounted as the despicable fruit of social exploitation and ill gotten capitalist riches?

No. I mean: oh please, for chrissakes no!!

What a cruel waste of potential joy & happiness that would be! However embedded in a bourgeois culture, these are still aesthetic and imaginative delights that can be tasted by all, if only given the chance and some kind of introduction by a mentor (alive or in book-form).


This is written in all honest naiveté and I do hope to prove my good faith by the story of my own late conversion.
Actually, I became sensitive to (classical) aesthetics rather late. For a long time , in my youthful city explorations, I spurned ‘officially’ picturesque sites or famous “old masters” museums , preferring to explore more neglected neighborhoods (5) .
It was an almost chance encounter with some ‘old master’ paintings (6) which “hurt and connect”, that made me curious about this powerful effect of aesthetics and high art.
And I am not ashamed to confess that it is the reading (at age 30 or so) of the best-selling book by Gombrich, “The Story of Art” (written in fact for teenagers) which marked the beginning of my passion for art history books.


Now to further appease lingering doubts of anxious post-colonial blog-readers out there, yes after my Monceau-tour I also went to visit the Quai Branly museum built to embody President Jacques Chirac's politically correct dream of French multiculturalism “. And yes, I did come under the spell of those wondrously ponderous masks.





Notes including an opinion poll about Brigitte Bardot and a question about multi-coloured propeller toys


(1) Sun, Sea & Sand: yes, prudishly eluding that other S-Word , convinced as I am that my blog readers don’t need the web for thàt. This being said – I do want to attract attention to the Saint-Tropez Tourist Office announcement of a
Brigitte Bardot exhibit. (But then again, are there any Bardot-fans amongst my select blog readership? Do let me know!)
(2) This rumination about dead spirits & fantasies of course echoes the Proust passage I read this morning: « Qui a raison du fossoyeur ou d’Hamlet quand l’un ne voit qu’un crâne là où le second se rappelle une fantaisie? La science peut dire : le fossoyeur ; mais elle a compté sans Shakespeare, qui fera durer le souvenir de cette fantaisie au-delà de la poussière du crâne. » (La bible d’Amiens, préface du traducteur)
(3) “Finding elation (almost) only amidst man-made signs” - Sorry C, that’s of course without counting you – (and anyway, there’s the “almost” qualification , dedicated to you and to sensual autumnal breezes, rays of sunlight on a tile floor, the sun hot on my skin, the smell of a park after the rain, crisp croissants et j’en passe)
(4) “Classical” in the sense of some happy form that has hardly changed since it was perfected long ago: such as red balloons, pink hoops, multi-colored mini-propellers-on-a stake - which -turn-dizzyingly-in-the-wind. (How on earth are these things called? Please let me know , together with your feelings about Brigitte Bardot)
(5) And I will always remain sensitive to the poignancy of “neglected neighborhoods”; partly out of melancholy disposition and partly out of an acute realist observer’s interest in signs of urban life & decay. Witness my Flickr-photostream dedicated to
Charleroi ….
(6) Notably, Caravaggio’s “David with the head of Goliath” and Titian’s “Noli me tangere”
(7) Quote from concierge travel guide


8 comments:

Roxana said...

oh, you were in Paris! i was there as well, in may - we might have met, perhaps...

and you list here exactly the places i wanted to go but didn't make it (especially the Cernuschi museum, but Quai Branly as well). now before answering your Bardot-question, i also have 2 questions for you (i cannot offer help with the multi-colored mini-propellers-on-a stake - which -turn-dizzyingly-in-the-wind):

why on earth this particular interest in the Bardot-issue?!

and (the second one is not so much a question, but a priere): could you please explain more in detail why these two pictures of old masters struck you so?

ffflaneur said...

oh dear, suppose we would indeed meet one day in Paris, wouldn't our blogs get all mixed up ??? and wouldn't that be delicious, dearest R?

My interest in Bardot: none what so ever! apart from the fact she is an icon of 60s Saint Tropez insouciance, offering an exhilarating contrast for my usually ponderously posting self.

As to the old masters: in the caravaggio there is that uniquely melancholy-victorious look cast by the (younger) David on the (older) Goliath, and there's the violent clair-obscur; both were irresistible for a tormented 20-something!
And the Titian captures that reserved movement of the "noli me tangere" - "touch me not" - all bathed in a limpid Venetian glow ...again, irresistible for an ever so reserved&sensitive 30 year old ;-D - note that the titian came after the caravaggio :-)

Roxana said...

verrry delicious, my dear :-)

i'm sorry for my delay in answering, now i am here, with another cup of tea in my hand (how else :-), smiling (again, of course!) about the delicious contrast Bardot-ffflaneur.

thank you for answering in detail about the paintings, now i know i should keep quiet (i so hate to disappoint you, but hiding one's true face is not an option at this point :-) but i was pondering exactly the contrary in Vienna's luxurious Kunsthistorisches Museum: how little the art of the
old masters has to say to me/some of us/many of us (?) today - i think that for most
people those paintings don't say anything any longer, they have lost
any ability to touch us (in literature it is the same, even literary critics have the courage to say that many classics are simply dead, their works are learned in school out of respect for tradition, but they have lost all relevance to us). ah those endless biblical and mythological representations with their moral intentions and boring realism...
also, judging from a cynical point of view, if one thinks about the
content of those depictions, the history of art really seems to be a
history of all the horrors of humankind, endless wars and rapes and violence.

i also noticed that the paintings which impressed me were those which were ahead of their times (ah Breugel!!!), modernist avant-la-lettre, if you wish, and this also says much about my modern sensitivity (but i am sure many people react the same). it might be that i lack a solid humanist culture as in the 19th century, perhaps that would make things a little different. but i think that the main problem lies in the principle of mimesis Western painting followed from its beginning, it took painting so long, centuries, until the beginning of the 20th, to free itself from the imitation of nature
and achieve what japanese or chinese painting has had at its core since the beginning. i think this is probably the reason
why modernist painters touch me so while a Rubens, for ex., tells me
very little (even if i had the art knowledge to understand his
innovations etc., he would still be unable to touch me).

now, i am ready to be torn apart and destroyed by an infuriated ffflaneur - will you still come to the Bridge? :-)

Roxana said...

i got an error because my comment was too long :-)

i am re-posting it, in two parts



verrry delicious, my dear :-)

i'm sorry for my delay in answering, now i am here, with another cup of tea in my hand (how else :-), smiling (again, of course!) about the delicious contrast Bardot-ffflaneur.

thank you for answering in detail about the paintings, now i know i should keep quiet (i so hate to disappoint you, but hiding one's true face is not an option at this point :-) but i was pondering exactly the contrary in Vienna's luxurious Kunsthistorisches Museum: how little the art of the
old masters has to say to me/some of us/many of us (?) today - i think that for most
people those paintings don't say anything any longer, they have lost
any ability to touch us (in literature it is the same, even literary critics have the courage to say that many classics are simply dead, their works are learned in school out of respect for tradition, but they have lost all relevance to us). ah those endless biblical and mythological representations with their moral intentions and boring realism...
also, judging from a cynical point of view, if one thinks about the
content of those depictions, the history of art really seems to be a
history of all the horrors of humankind, endless wars and rapes and violence.

Roxana said...

i also noticed that the paintings which impressed me were those which were ahead of their times (ah Bruegel!!!), modernist avant-la-lettre, if you wish, and this also says much about my modern sensitivity (but i am sure many people react the same). it might be that i lack a solid humanist culture as in the 19th century, perhaps that would make things a little different. but i think that the main problem lies in the principle of mimesis Western painting followed from its beginning, it took painting so long, centuries, until the beginning of the 20th, to free itself from the imitation of nature
and achieve what japanese or chinese painting has had at its core since the beginning. i think this is probably the reason
why modernist painters touch me so while a Rubens, for ex., tells me
very little (even if i had the art knowledge to understand his
innovations etc., he would still be unable to touch me).

now, i am ready to be torn apart and destroyed by an infuriated ffflaneur - will you still come to the Bridge? :-)

ffflaneur said...

3 times "no" Roxana:
1) I will not tear you apart
2) I will not stop coming to the bridge
3) The old masters are not (yet) dead

Though, I very well understand what you say, : ancient art seems to be seperated from us is by layers of obstruse symbols & references, by tons of "expired values".
And yet:my "conversion" took place because on very subjective & non-learned level i was struck by a melancholy expression (caravaggio), by an elegant aloofness (tizian) which established an instant connection. So that's the 1st, very basic level of correspondence: old masters (& people of bygone ages) were humans with emotions and failings just as us. And then there's a second very basic element: aesthetic norms of course evolbe, but basic aeshetic sensibilities don't: eg a sense of light, a sense of line. On a third level there's the fact of "selection": works from "old masters" still on display now have been "selected" by subsequent generations from the thousands & thousands of artefacts humankind keeps on producing, because they somehow had an aesthetic or 'soulful' quality that went beyond the myths & values of their time.
As to me, teh fact that this melancholy glance, this gentle aloofness struck me after hundreds of years has launched me in my passion for art history: a passion to understand how humans try to make sense of the world, a passion to understand how our basic sense of sight can rejoice.

leenhuet said...

Flâneur, ik lees dit nu pas, en ik denk plotseling terug aan mijn laatste herinneringen van Parc Monceau, en het navrante musée Nissim de Camondo - boven zat die melancholieke man alleen te eten in achttiende-eeuwse splendour, en een verdieping lager zaten al zijn personeelsleden gezellig samen tafel in de mooie keuken. Plotse melancholie :-)

Swann Ffflaneur said...

ja, een prachtige keuken hè!