After spending just one day in Paris, we moved on to Caen, where there's an archive James needed to use. The archive is very small and remote, so I've been sitting out in the garden or working in our room (which is in an abbey built in 1121). I was nervous about working remotely, but it's a dream! Most of my workday is while my colleagues are still sleeping, so every day I can achieve inbox zero. It's actually a really efficient way to work (so far).
On the plane I watched "Midnight in Paris," which summed up my apprehension about Paris. As someone who loves New York, and is also self-conscious and a bit embarrassed about how completely cliche it is to love New York, I get it. Paris generates a similar kind of unspecific adoration in foreigners. My book club recently read A Moveable Feast, and there was a lot of Paris-gushing by those who had traveled there. Maybe I'm a killjoy, I was prepared to be let down by Paris -- people who say they love it seem more in love with the idea of Paris, than Paris itself.
But surprise surprise, I too was taken by the OMGculture, bistros, apertifs, etc. of Paris.
What can I say? It's great here!
After our flight landed at 9:30am we dropped out bags at our hotel ("the finest 1-star hotel in Paris"), chosen because is is near the train station and convenient for the following day's early AM train. We had a lunch at one of those takeaway baguette places, and headed over to the Musee d'Orsay because I had read about their huge collection of impressionism. (Don't let me mislead you into thinking I know anything about art; I don't. I just like looking at it.) We eyed a huge line to get into the Van Gogh/Artaud exhibit, but waited in it anyway and I'm so glad we did. The exhibit had a wonderful name: "The Man Suicided by Society."
After entering and walking through a disorienting chamber with words about insanity (I think -- I don't speak French) scribbled on the walls and discordant string music mixed with human screams on loop -- we enter the exhibit. Artaud's writings on Van Gogh were in response to a book Van Gogh's psychiatrist wrote about his condition. Artaud spent 9 years in an asylum himself and, deeply distrustful of psychiatrists, "challenged this analysis, accusing society as a whole of driving Van Gogh to suicide by its indifference or in order to "prevent him from uttering unspeakable truths". Van Gogh therefore committed suicide because the collective consciousness as a whole could no longer tolerate him." (via) I was really into it.
I also saw Manets, a Rousseau, and a ton of Monets. I really loved the piece by Auguste Rodin called "La Porte de l'Enfer" (The Gates of Hell). Here is a photo...it is completely insufficient -- it is huge, and terrifying. The bodies look like they're bursting out from behind the gate. Here is more about it.
Now in Caen (near Normandy) we have group meals, which are enormous buffets. The first meal was various bread and cheeses, roasted eggplants and peppers in olive oil, artichokes, a spinach and cream egg souffle, creme brulee, rhubarb pie, espresso, and wine. Everyone is a Francophone or fluent in French, so group meals are a little taxing for me. I sit and eat, mute, but because there are so many cognates in French, I can still sort out what others are saying, for the most part. I feel as my dog probably does when I'm discussing dinner plans, and she catches the word "dinner" and snaps to attention. Someone across the table mentioned "caprese salad" and my eyes shot over to her in recognition. It's a little bit awkward. I am using two different apps on my phone to try to learn some simple phrases, but they aren't so helpful: the first thing the Duolingo app taught me to say is "Je suis une enfant" (I am an infant).