Museums are teeming with all thing curious, interesting, beautiful, ugly, etc that I could spend an entire day in a large one or hop from a small one to another, and would most likely happily repeat the same the next day. (I even own a couple of museum cards so I have unlimited access all year round to these museums without having to queue for ticket each time). Monuments, on the other hand, showcase history through architecture and events that occur on these sites. No less fascinating on their own.
Cue: free museums and monuments Sunday
In Paris-talk, this Sunday refers to the first Sunday of the month. Free entry to check out something different and informative each month – sweet deal!
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Musée Marmottan Monet is a gem. A little out of the way perhaps, it sits just at the eastern edge of Bois de Boulogne. There are no pomps to announce its presence just beyond a small playground in mainly, from what I gathered, a residential area. However, what’s hidden behind the seemingly plain façade is another story altogether.
The museum is one primarily dedicated to Impressionism, an art movement which I can’t seem to get enough of. I may as well admit now that I hold an annual pass to Musée d’Orsay so I could visit anytime in the year to indulge in my whims for the romance in Impressionist works, not to mention the added bonus of entry to Musée de l’Orangerie whenever I wish. Paris was central to the birth of Impressionism and I believe no better city could have been chosen for it to flourish. Today, Paris is also the best city to admire many of the masterpieces produced during the short time-span of the movement.
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With my friends from Dublin visiting, and seeing today’s also the first Sunday of the month when many museums and historical landmarks are free to visit, we opted for the Museum of Modern Art at Centre Pompidou. It has an amazing collection, ranging from the “classics” (Picasso, Miro, Gris etc) to the quirky (there are pieces I have yet to decipher) – just the perfect place to spend a lovely afternoon together.
Something outside the windows kept catching my attention – the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. And with it, it brought to mind an exhibition by Henri Rivière which I saw a couple of years back, displaying some prints of 36 Views of Eiffel Tower, which in turn was inspired by Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Can I call dibs on photographic version of 36 Views of Sacré-Cœur? I can’t imagine it would be easy with a point-n-shoot camera, especially for distant views. Now that we’re coming into winter too, daylight hours are limited (I do need to work) and absolute clear days at weekends may be hard to come by. We’ll see…
Tucked away in the rather posh and affluent 8th arrondissement is Musée Jacquemart-André, formerly home to a certain Monsieur Jacquemart and his wife Madame J neé André. Not a museum frequently visited by foreign tourists, there was nonetheless a queue when I went there for a visit with my friend, most of them French and trying to catch the Caillebotte Brothers exhibition before its closure in a couple of weeks. Like me really. I’ve been wanting to see the Impressionist-half of the siblings, while being mildly curious about the photographer-half of the duo.
The museum is absolutely stunning. I could not justifiably describe it – it is something you should see for yourself. The tropical conservatory, ornated staircases, decorated apartments and opulent dining room are but some of the features. The dining room is today a café that serves delicious salads and a few other special dishes, and they entice diners in by displaying a mouth-watering selection of cakes and tarts right by the door to enter the eatery. Smart marketing move ;)
If you ever find yourself crossing River Seine southward at Pont d’Austerlitz, you will see this magnificent building right ahead, surrounded by a beautiful garden. When I saw it for the first time, I wondered whose grand palatial residence could it be. But this is Paris, where real estate is at its premium, so really, who could afford to live in a place like this?
Turns out, a bunch of preserved (or models of) animals and plants. Or so I am assuming since it is the site of the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, aka the Natural History Museum of Paris, and other NHMs that I’ve been to tend to house items of similar vein. I still have not yet been there for a visit – I should – but I have been told by an ex-colleague in Dublin how wonderful this place is. Certainly, the setting from the exterior has been charming. Now it remains how captivated I would be when I venture in one day.
Gustav III Museum of Antiquities is a rather peculiar museum. It is a museum of a museum, that is, it is a museum recreated based on the museum which used to be housed at the Royal Palace. For a period of time, these pieces were moved to National Museum. They were subsequently restored at the Palace once again, and reopened as Museum of Antiquities. Therefore, this is a museum honouring what was one of the oldest European museums.
The museum is not particularly big, consisting of only two galleries. The bigger one containing a number of key statues, including Apollo and his nine muses, and Endymion, while the narrower gallery is used to mostly display busts of men of fame in the past. What’s quite amusing was listening to the guide explaining how rogue merchants of the past classified something as an object of antiquities from Roman civilisation. Apparently, as long as there’s at least 30% of original parts to the work, it was considered antiquities. And missing parts (limbs, attributes) can subsequently be replaced by, say, reconstructive sculpting works. Intriguing.
During our walking tour yesterday morning, we were brought to the front courtyard of Musée de Moyen Âge-Cluny for a spot of historical guide. The structure of the Hôtel de Cluny is pretty much intact since the middle ages, its façade well preserved and the one main structure missing is the wooden gallery for the sentry who kept guard the townhouse.
Our attention was drawn to the scallop shells motive found on the door, as part of coat of arms and bas-relief at the first floor level. Legend has it, back in the old day, a pilgrim (someone important to the Abbey of Cluny? It seems I wasn’t paying enough attention) on the route to Santiago de Compostela (i.e. the Way of St James, Chemin de St Jacques in French) found himself in danger of sinking in a marsh to a muddy death. However, his prayer to St James was heard and he was saved when scallop shells (emblem of St James) emerged from the marsh and opened a path for him to continue his pilgrimage. Whether you buy this or not, it’s up to you. ;)
Random trivia of the day: St Jacques is the equivalent of St James in French, and scallop is named after him, as la coquille St-Jacques.
Another random trivia of the day: to one side of Musée de Moyen Âge-Cluny is the famous Boulevard St Michel but to the other (parallel) side is rue St Jacques, one of the main thoroughfares of Paris in the middle ages.
There’s so much to tell today and I don’t know where to start. Or how to keep it short-ish. Just know that it has been a gloriously warm Sunday and I wish everyday is as wonderful as this.
Only one museum visited this morning – Chloé and I went to the Musée des Arts et Métiers where we caught live demonstrations of Pascaline calculator and Faucault’s Pendulum – before our stomach rumbled and we got very lucky to get a table at Breizh Café without reservation. A galette Breton and a sweet crepe each, yum. Sitting outside at the terrace for a bit of a tan while eating delicious brunch – bonus of the day.
That was not all. Today is Jour du Macaron as well, so we made it to Pierre Hermé’s shop near Pasteur (the queue at the shop near St Sulpice was crazy long and we didn’t even try to go there) for some treats. The flavours I picked: fig, sweetbriar and foie gras; white truffle and hazelnut; and “dépaysé” which combined matcha green tea, azuki bean, lime and ginger. Two words to describe them all – flavoursome, delectable.
As the Salon du Livre was also running this weekend, I went over to check it out. Free entry with my Paris public library card – nice! I bought a couple of books, including Dessine-moi un parisien by Olivier Magny (who keeps an entertaining blog of Stuff Parisians Like), which he also kindly autographed. I would have like to stay and chat with him for a bit, but my French was failing me…
The day was capped off with dinner at Chloé’s where the girls and I were served raclette with potato, salad and saucissons. Even though we were stuffed in the end, we incorporated a little twist to dessert, by serving roti bakar, Malaysian style.
I am having the time of my life :D
Weekend numero deux in Paris and it is a cooooold Saturday despite the sunny blue sky. This morning, I conquered the communal laundry machine and dryer (yay) with the help of my neighbour and I am also all set for a weekend at the museums, thanks to Chloé’s mum who furnished us with a Télérama pass which entitles free entry (for up to 4 person) to selected museums both today and tomorrow.
But first thing first – la manif. Purportedly one of French’s favourite pastimes (apart from la grève), the educators are on the demonstration path this time round, starting from Luxembourg. When I went past, they were just getting themselves organised, with brightly coloured balloons, gigantic banners, oversized puppets, and photographers are swarming the place, amateurs (like me) and professionals alike.
I didn’t stay around. Instead I was away to the Musée du Quai Branly and Musée d’Art Moderne, near the neighbourhood of the Eiffel Tower. I know, I know, I haven’t yet taken a single photograph of that iconic Parisian structure since I got here. It’ll come, at some stage. Just not today. Stories of the museums to come separately when I have a bit more time to write. Plenty of accompanying photos as well. ;)
Do you know, many of the museums in Dublin are free to enter? My favourite among all is the Chester Beatty Library at the back of Dublin Castle, of which currently there is an excellent exhibition of the lores of Shahnama and a number of related events have also been organised. Last week, I was at a showing of Azur and Azmar and I’m looking forward to a public lecture next week on The Shahnama and the Iranian Identity. Should be very interesting.
This photo above though was that of the entrance to the National Musuem of Ireland-Archaelogy on Kildare St, which houses a large number of artifacts and bog bodies. To its back is the Natural History Museum which recently reopened after a spell of structural repair works. A triumvirate of national museums is formed through inclusion of the National Gallery nearby, whereby these museums surround the Leinster House, current seat of Irish Parliament. There is no admission charge to any of these museums mentioned above.