Friday, May 31, 2013

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Centennial)

Between the stays in Paris, I 'tailgate' for eleven months by reading different things about Paris, looking at artists I am less familiar with that I want to find here, and planning on things I want to see or do when I arrive. Many of these things will become additional blog entries, so I don't want to reveal them all here, in this entry. One of these interests centered around Stravinsky and the affair he had in the 1920's with Coco Chanel. The centennial of the debut of Le Sacre du Printemps was two days ago and was all through the art and music online news, including at the Stravinsky Facebook fan sites and classical music stations.

I remember coming across Stravinsky hearing "Petrushka" one late night on the Erie public radio station while I worked all night with some grad students in the studio at Edinboro. While I love that piece on its own merits, it, too, has emotional and psychological attachments because of that memory. I minored in classical guitar performance while at Edinboro, in an attempt to understand the complexity of the guitar, which can always dish out more than I can eat. Some music majors sensed my curiosity (and lack of musical awareness) and turned me on to "The Firebird" and others. A grad student in painting who had studied with Meredith Monk told me that Stravinsky was arrested in Boston for an arrangement he composed of "The Star-Spangled Banner". I had a hard time 'hearing' Stravinsky, but later developed an appreciation for him past "Petrushka".

Igor Stravinsky in the 1920's

I had watched a documentary on Coco Chanel last summer in one of these 'tailgating' sessions and remembered they had had an affair.  I had already watched (and loved) "Coco before Chanel" because of my love for Audrey Tautou and purchased "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky". Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it yet:


Stravinsky would spend time each year in Switzerland and then return to Russia. Due to the Russian Revolution that was no longer possible and the family moved to Brittany.  Money was tight despite his early success of "The Firebird". Chanel heard of Stravinsky's financial difficulties and extended an offer to him to move into her chateau, "Bel Respiro", in a suburb called Garches, here in Paris. I had hoped to get to see it, but it won't happen this trip. Stravinsky accepts, the family moves in, and shortly thereafter the affair begins.

Before all of that begins, the movie recreates the famous rioting that occurred at Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 1913- supposedly when Chanel first encounters his work. Le Sacre du Printemps' sheer volume of the orchestra (which apparently was massive), as well as the extreme unorthodox composition, both of music and dance, led to yelling and heckling, and then rioting, resulting in the police being summoned to get the crowd under control. Its surreal to think of this happening today.  As I walked passed the Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (15 Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris)today,I couldn't help but think of the riot.

The Riot (around 3:00)

Apparently, Chanel was at the infamous debut of Le Sacre du Printemps, and in the movie, she seems to understand his genius in a way that the mainstream cannot, or is not ready to. Perhaps, she identifies with him being ahead of his time, the way her designs were ahead of other clothing designers. I would also love to believe that No.5 is created in Grasse during their affair.  I'm not sure how much of this is accurate. Regardless, the fire that ignites between these two intensely creative people is enormous.

Coco Chanel in the 1920's
The movie follows them in to old age, long after they part ways. Apparently, they never see one another, speak or correspond again, but they are portrayed as still thinking of one another. It's an incredible movie, one of my favs. Check it out, particularly if you've seen "Coco before Chanel".

I was shopping in the Marais the other day and came across, Place de Stravinsky, and it got me thinking about the movie.  Here are some pics of the pool and commissioned works based on Stravinsky's pieces.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Port de Vanves- Marche de puce

I love hitting the flea market when I return each year. The more I go, the more I pick up on the patterns of what is interesting and unique. When I first went, everything caught my eye and seemed unique, but that has changed.  Certain items are staples and they tend to be there, in various types and amounts, each visit. However, I am always surprised to see some of the unique things that turn up.  Here are some pics from the last one I went to, and a link to a previous post telling the history of the markets.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Breath-taking St. Chapelle

My favorite architecture has always been Gothic and St. Chapelle is an amazing example of rayonnant gothic architecture. When I stayed in Italy as grad student and later as professor, I visited many churches. There's no denying how impressive the scale of St. Peter's in Rome is. In addition,  many Italian churches are impressive with their art holdings only from Bernini, Bellini, Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

 I really enjoy all of Ross King's books and I've read Brunelleschi's Dome four or five times now- the first time in Florence in 2002. Its great anecdote of all of the inventions that had to take place to be able to complete the Duomo. One of the knock that Italians have always had with Gothic architecture is that the structural elements (flying buttresses) are visible whereas with the Duomo the structure is inside the walls of the dome, between roof and ceiling, invisible to the viewer. I personally like the aesthetic of the buttress myself as it compliments the dynamic and amount of the details found on the finials, bar tracery, etc. The real payoff for me though is the interior. The nave is so narrow resulting in a huge vertical thrust, and due to the buttressing the walls are nearly non-existent. The walls actually appear like bar tracery rather than structural walls. There is so much glass and its is completely stunning.

St. Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis IX as his private chapel and as part of his collection was the relic of the Crown of Thorns. Apparently, the relic is no longer kept there. It is kept in Notre Dame. While much of the church underwent restoration in the 19th century after being damage during the French Revolution, two thirds of the stained glass is original, making it one of the most precious examples in Europe.

Several nights ago I had the pleasure of returning to St. Chapelle for a performance by Orchestre les Solistes Francais. I love them. They had a guest soprano, the amazing Mme. Marie-Pierre Wattiez, for a number of pieces, including two pieces by Bach (Jesu, The Joy of Man's Desiring and Ave Maria) that they closed the performance with. I had goosebumps on my neck and welled-up with tears as I was overcome with the space and music.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chez Papa and Canal St. Martin

Every year I visit Paris, I return to a small restaurant in the 10th called Chez Papa (Papa's place).  The restaurant, a chain like Paul- the famous patisserie, can be found around Paris.  They're all independently managed and though I haven't been to another, I understand that they vary slightly from one to another.

One of the main attractions near the resto is the famous Canal St. Martin. Long before I had visited Paris, I remember seeing the canal in the famous movie, Amelie, from the early 2000's.  Here, the stunning Audrey Tautou is shown skipping stones at one of the locks as one of her "les petits plaisirs."

Amelie skipping stones (around 0:13)

The canal was commissioned by Napoleon around 1800 as a way of supply a growing Parisian population with a fresh water source.  From Wikipedia:

Gaspard de Chabrol, prefect of Paris, proposed building a canal from the Ourcq River (starting 100 km northeast of Paris). The canal was dug from 1802 to 1825, funded by a new tax on wine. The canal was also used to supply Paris with food (grain), building materials, and other goods, carried on canal boats. Two ports were created in Paris on the canal to unload the boats: the Port de l'Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette.
The canal was nearly closed in the 1960s when other means of shipping completely took over the same goods that used to be transported on the river. One proposal was to even convert the canal into a highway.  Thankfully, for the romantic, this never happened. Like many public spaces in and around Paris, its common to see people congregating here.  The park called Villemin is adjacent.

Aside from the history and pop cultural associations with the canal, its visually stunning.  And so, I've started two paintings of the canal both along the Quai de Valmy. Here are both views of the paintings, and a several others of the canal and lock in the movie:

The resto is on rue de Lafayette, about two blocks from the canal, and is frequented by many locals.  In the several times that I have been there during a weeknight, it has always been busy.  The outside of the resto is quite inviting and similar to cafes and bistros.
This resto's specialty is canard (duck) prepared in the basque style. The menu claims that Papa is l'Aubergiste du Sud-Ouest (Landlord of the Southwest). :)
Typically, the wine has been from the Loire Valley region, usually Chinon, but as anywhere, you can order wines from all over.  While you wait, homemade toasted bread (doubling as croutons for a salad) is also common.

In the past, I've always ordered the canard, though its the only time in my life I ever have. The last time I order medallions with a potato and leek salad with potatoes, which was heavenly.

This time I went all out and ordered my favorite, their specialty: aigulilettes de canard ave a la creme de pesche (duck breasts with peach cream). It is the most wonderful thing I have ever tasted. :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A visit to Notre Dame and Berthillon

The one thing I enjoy about traveling is seeing the work that I love in person. You just can't replace all of the empirical responses you have to the work that are lost in translation of the reproduction. The sheer scale of Notre Dame is quite remarkable, and more so, when you consider the time it was built. The history of the flying buttress is a remarkable engineering development that altered the amount of light that could be emitted into the interior of the church. Making thinner walls, as well as buttressing the weight of the walls, allowed there to be more glass.  It took over 160 years to build the church, and you can see the moment in the build where the clerestory (the third floor windows) looses the wheel window and moves to a complete vertical stained glass window (see highlighted circle in photo).
The nave is flanked by hanging chandeliers that add additional light to the side aisles mixing two light sources which is seen below.
Two of my favorite things about Notre Dame, and other churches that I seen (mostly in Italy), are the acoustics and seeing the outside, up close.  This is a great example of the acoustics and a stunning shot of the south rose window:
 The outside of Notre Dame is exquisite and I think its imperative to walk the 380+ steps and tour the top. The views of Paris are amazing and seeing the church up close gives you an appreciation for the height theses stones were lifted and their pure mass (pun intended).  My first visit to the top reminded me of the famous 1853 Charles Negre photograph of Henri Le Secq seen below.
Here are some photos from the top from a previous trip when it was sunny.

Afterward, I made my way over the Pont St. Louis and saw a wonderful couple dancing and shot this.
 You must hit Berthillon when you're in Paris.   I went for the pear and pink grapefruit which was really good choice to end the day! A close up: