on the road again – back in Paris

Departure Thursday late afternoon, call for my work when we’re crossing the border – no connection. Definitely a sign to let go.

A basic overnight stay on the outskirts of Lille is our first stop. Looks like a friendly prison (can a prison be friendly?) with the cells being mini rooms with wooden bars, which makes it look even kind of ecological. However, A most friendly welcome and the costs are less than 50 euros for two. The bed is good, the shower small with a serious risk of flooding so we shorten the shower sessions a and take the car to the center.

The parking garages of Lille seems to be made for Fiat 500 and friends, which is a slightly different size than our – although big, still beloved – white monster. The Verona car park trauma immediately pops up. We have not forgotten and so we refuse to enter. Actually, for exactly the same reason in none of them, so it took a while before we sat down at a tiny terrace. Organic vegan meal with a surprisingly tasty organic rosette, unfortunately a terrace with less organic exhaust gases, but oh well, we are sitting comfortably and are already in France! What more could we wish for. We’re extremely happy to be on the road again.

The next morning we go back to the old town, knowing where to park, enjoying the sun and a coffee with avocado toast. Le pain quotidian, my favorite chain, no matter where in the world. Time is on our side. So nice to have this feeling. Being in a different country again.

Early afternoon we arrive in Paris. Joris shows the way. Within 5 minutes we are on a bus/taxi/emergency route, consistently ignoring every possible ‘no entry’ or stop signs. We’re making good progress though. Google is confused but Joris has his stoic look. We arrive where we want to be, and yes, faster than ever. The Airbnb is spacious with a beautiful old stairwell with centuries old incised stone steps and an iron railing. After that we arrive at a 3rd floor apartment with old French doors. Overlooking other balconies and the many Parisien chimneys.

I have a surprise planned for every day, including tonight. The weather is lovely and we decided to go for a walk and find sone dinner along the way. As French as it can be; steak tartare with french fries, cheese as dessert. All of this accompanied by a fantastic deep red volcanic Anjou. Welcome back in Paris.

Diversity – Sustainability – Collectivism – Individualism – Libertinism – Art – Paris

In a world where most of us are kind of addicted to their smartphones (not excluding myself here), unplugging normally doesn’t mean engaging with more digital stuff… But in Atelier des Lumières it seemed to work like that. At least, for me.

An immersive music- & video-accompanied photo exhibition of Jimmy Nelson did the trick. In this reconverted iron foundry (something I learned afterwards), he shows us the guardians, the last sentinels. All-encompassing art with a strong social, cultural and environmental message. It costed us some time to sink in, the auto visual experience overwhelmed at first. However, taking the time, sitting down, even laying down on the floor in the mirrored cube (interestingly people followed our example, creating a new normal is apparently easy to do in such an environment) certainly did the trick. It unplugged me and at the same time plugged me into something bigger.

The richness of the Indigenous way of life as an antidote for the modern day crisis of disconnection. It made me think about collectivism vs. individualism. About the importance of the ‘community’, versus a focus on the rights and concerns of each person. Where unity and selflessness are valued traits in collectivist cultures, independence and personal identity are promoted in individualistic cultures. Common goals rather than individual pursuits, often my preference, especially in a professional work environment. I find working as a team and supporting others essential, hence I definitely encourage group loyalty. On the other hand, I embrace a personal identity, independence, often even assertiveness, I like it when there is room for relational mobility. A society where individuals can form relationships with people of their choosing. Its a fact that strangers are more likely to remain strangers in a collectivistic culture than they would be in individualistic cultures. Maybe it’s more about conformity: either stand out or fit in with the rest of the group. Food for thought while we are laying on the floor in that mirrored room, watching the beautiful slide show on the ceiling.

The red thread connecting all these Indigenous communities, displayed on walls (up to 10 m high), floors and ceilings, is for sure their respect for the land. Apparently this 5% of the population protects 80% of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity. Shocking. It’s good to reflect on ourselves through the eyes of the other, and that’s what art does with me. Especially when it’s in sync with beautiful music.

All of this can be found in the eleventh arrondissement of Paris, A pleasant 40 minutes walk from our Airbnb studio in a tiny street in the midst of Le Marais. Boulangerie across the street, what more can you wish for? Yes, indeed, a parking spot.. but, as mentioned earlier, even that was possible. Per this week I’m a fan of the OPnGO app, easy and affordable. Even though it was not the ‘open Sesame’ experience we were aiming for – which is not handy when you are 2 floors down without connection – miraculously the gate finally opened, after pressing literally every button we could found.

The next day we visited Salgado’s Amazonian odyssey. For 7+ years, he immersed himself in the many corners of the Brazilian Amazon, photographing the forest, rivers and mountains, and – for me the best part of the selection – the people who live there. Again, guardians of the land and the culture. Not a coincidence of course. It’s not only a perfect follow up of yesterday, also of the documentary Salt of the Earth. For the ones who haven’t had the chance to see this, just make it happen. It’s documenting societies in hidden corners of the world, co-directed by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son, Juliano Ribeiro. Humanity being the “salt of the earth”. Although it seems as if Salgado has gone beyond humanity in depicting the natural world; landscapes without people.

Despite the fact you need to book upfront and online, the no of people watching the landscapes without people was not covid limited. It didn’t give us a comfortable feeling, interesting how our mind works after 16 months covid rules and regulations. A break outside including coffee in one of the nearby backstreets – different scène since it’s a bit more towards the frayed edges of the city – and a prohibited re-entry (he is always bluffing his way into it.. I’m following quietly) made it a good experience.

Also the building itself is worthwhile. I learned that the Cité de la Musique opened a week after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. (January 2015) and the first performance honored the victims. Ironically the building is situated in the same sector of the city which is the home of the two brothers who carried out these killings. The building is an organic design with lots of aluminium panels around the structure and contrast with the rest of its matte exterior. The exterior features the images of 300,000 + birds, etched into the surface in different shapes and shades, ranging from light grey to black to symbolize a grand take-off. I like it.

eighteenth-century love

After these different, but also much related exhibitions, we dived into erotic painting from the 18th century, something truly different. l’Empire des Sens, it brings together intimacy and libertinism, using the 250th anniversary of the death of François Boucher as an excuse for an exposition in the tiny, but beautiful, museum Cognacq-Jay. The Age of Enlightenment inspired painters to explore subjects without any filter, and love and desire was clearly a favourite subject for many of them. François Boucher is considered a master of erotic paintings. I didn’t know that, but accompanied by some of his peers (mostly men, unfortunately) it’s a good – and worthwhile visiting – collection of more than hundred drawings, paintings and engravings. Some of them coming from private collections, likely being shown for the first time, all showing how these painters expressed their desire. Lush boudoirs, stolen kisses in alcoves, women in states of undress, but also some surprising images and items in the special cabinet of curiosities at the end. Wunderkammers…similar to Tilburg – see my former blog. In l’Empire des Sens it’s about secret boxes, faux books and a map of saucy spots in Paris back in the day. pornographic-like items which reveals a different facet of intimacy in the 18th century. I guess that after the more prudish reign of Louis XIV people sought for a bit more freedom in their lives…

Fun to visit and the temporary terrace in the little courtyard give room to discuss and read about the collection. Nice spot, bad coffee. To wash down the bad taste, we decided to grab a lunch at the Italian deli in the oldest food market of Paris. Although Marché des Enfants Rouges is a historic monument (taking its name from the 16th-century orphanage that used to occupy the site; the red of the children’s clothes indicated they had been donated by Christian charities), I only found out by coincidence some years ago when I rented a small student type of room. The market was literally at my doorstep and you could find me there every day for brunch. Still a good choice, although I have to say that I was happy with my second Pfizer dose while busy was an understatement. Felt somewhat uncomfortable, but the smell of the food and the sight of a large plate spaghetti alle vongole made me weak. Equally weak when it came to my low carbs diet. Sometimes you have to make exceptions and this was one of these moments.

After strolling down the flea market, hiding for the pouring down rain helped finding a beautiful secondhand book with drawings and watercolors from Rodin. A true treasure! Nothing just happens.. A good souvenir and memory of an unexpected weekend, triggered by watching a movie where we saw intertwined stories of a diverse group of people, all living in Paris. The typical Parisian shots made me long for more…

Back in Paris, the city where love, culture and food are, for me, perfectly combined. A good destination for our first trip outside the country borders since COVID-19 brought us all lock down. It was a weekend full of impressions. Let there be more! In the meantime I’ll see if I can find and watch this controverse art movie L’Empire des Sens. Must be possible in this digital age.

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