Saturday, March 31, 2012

An eventful week

Despite the sad news of Boris's demise, it has been a pretty good week. To avoid getting the blues, I have been trying to keep busy. Also, we had a fun group in class this week, which always makes things more interesting. As I've said already, everyone here has been very supportive. And being able to go to the gym has been helpful as well.

Yesterday, before settling in for the NCIS marathon on Channel 6, I went to see "Albert Nobbs". Although I liked certain aspects (the period Dublin setting, some of the minor character actors, and the amazing performance of Janet McTeer), it's not a film I can really recommend. The amazing passivity of the central character both defied credibility and sucked all the life out of what could have been a far more interesting story. Yeah, Glenn Close was impressive, but in the end it wasn't in the service of a particularly worthwhile project.

This afternoon's production of "Oncle Vanya", which I finally did get to see, was much more enjoyable. Even if I did feel like standing up a few times and imploring the actors to speak just a little bit more slowly. What the staging lacked in production values (very sparse indeed) was more than compensated by the actors' talent and enthusiasm. It was well worth travelling out to the sticks a second time to see it.

When I got back from the theater just now, I found myself to be the proud owner of a 'natural' sponge, purchased in one of the fine boutiques near the Bastille for a mere 18 Euros. This is a little disturbing, because I barely recall buying it, and while I'm sure it will come in useful, it's hardly what one might consider a necessity. I am reminded of a brief interval following the death of Boris's predecessor (the venerable Stumpy), where part of my grieving reaction manifested itself as a minor spree of impulse buying. I plan to take precautions here by not taking my credit cards with me when I leave the apartment and limiting the cash on hand to no more than 20 Euros. There was also the 43 Euros worth of cat-themed artistic memorabilia that found its way into my shopping basket at the gift shop in the Musee d'Orsay on Thursday evening. If you must know.

Tomorrow I am going to the museum (of decorative arts?) with Nancy and Gabriella. Next week I plan to restart my private lessons with Danielle, my teacher from last fall. Brad is back in San Francisco, holding down the fort. But my friend Yvonne is arriving on Saturday to claim her place on the sofabed downstairs. Then the following weekend I will be attending my friend Ben's wedding in Gainesville. So things will continue to be busy for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to everyone who sent me e-mail or Facebook messages sympathizing about Boris's death. I appreciate all your good wishes.

So they've just turned the lights out on the Eiffel tower for 5 minutes for "Earth Day" as a symbolic gesture. Frankly, the sense of this escapes me completely.

(OK, that last picture is a little creepy)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stendhal Syndrome

Sorry folks. You can keep your Louvre, your Tate, your Prado, your Uffizi. Even (and it pains me to write this) your Thyssen and your Museo Sorolla. There's only one museum that has won a permanent place in my heart. The rest just don't hold a candle.

I am, of course, referring to the Musee d'Orsay. Wikipedia tells us the following about Stendhal Syndrome:

Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.

I would submit that it is the only possible reaction of any sentient human to a visit to the Musee d'Orsay. Today I got to the museum at 4 pm, there was no line so I was able to go straight in. I left at 7 pm, having seen possibly only 10% of what the museum has to offer. But those three hours were as intense an experience as one could ever hope to have. Surely there is no other space on earth in which one experiences such a concentration of the best of human creativity, at least in the artistic sphere. Yes, I know, it's Eurocentric and heavily weighted to the 19th and 20th centuries. So what? It's sublime.

And I have plenty more Thursday evenings here in Paris. Guess where you will find me?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

For Boris

Even though Boris was more of a lover than a hunter, I've always loved this little poem that captures the companionship between one monk and his cat so beautifully. If you don't already know it, it dates from roughly the 9th century and was written by an Irish monk in a manuscript now known as the Reichenauer Schulheft.

The translation below is by Robin Flower:


I and Pangur Bán, my cat
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Sad News

Boris the brave, my beloved kitty and a faithful companion for many years, died on Sunday evening in San Francisco. Our best estimate of his age is about 14 years. He had slowed down a little during the winter, but was in no obvious distress; indeed he seemed to have mellowed out a bit in his last few months.

He will be greatly missed, not least by his younger companion Natasha, who is upset, but doing OK.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dinner and a Movie

Just back from dinner with Brad at "Au Pied du Cochon" (The Pig's Trotter). Here are some delightful pictures -

Delightful pig-themed china.

David, applying his full critical faculties to the Dame Blanche.

Delicious, only slightly deformed porcine meringue treats.

Mmmmm. Confiture de cochon !!

Before dinner we went to see "The Hunger Games". I thought it was extremely well done, though it might not be to everyone's taste.

How was "Uncle Vanya" yesterday? Funny you should ask. As it turned out, I never actually got to see the play. When I got off at the metro station (Ecoles Veterenaires), it turned out that I was way outside the periphery, well beyond where my trusty 20-arrondissement map could be of help. So I did what anyone would do, I put on my most charmingly helpless smile and thrust myself at the mercy of passers-by. Sometimes this strategy works well; sometimes the results can be a little unexpected. This completely charming fifty-ish gentleman insisted on accompanying me to the address where the theater was located. Unfortunately, as we turned down one sidestreet after another, chatting animatedly all the while, it became more and more evident that he actually had no clue where he was going. Neither his phone nor mine had enough bars to help us out. Eventually, at 16:15 (that is, a quarter hour after the play was supposed to start) he looked at me sheepishly and said "I don't think I have been much help to you, Monsieur. But let me make it up to you and invite you to come home for coffee and meet my wife. She would love to meet you and speak English with you." What could I do but accept his kind invitation - we went back to his lovely home, his wife was indeed charming and, all in all, I had much more fun than I probably would have had if I had managed to see the damned play. Which will also be on next weekend, if I really need to see it.

Ain't serendipity grand? And let it never be said that Parisian people are inhospitable.

The end of another great week here in the City of Light. I really am blessed to be here - don't think I take it for granted, I don't.

Until next time.

What next?

As my French learning continues to accelerate, regular readers of this blog will surely be asking themselves, "What will David do next, once French is done?"

There are at least two possible answers to this question, one more frivolous than the other. The less frivolous (and therefore more likely) option is that I will move on to the next Romance language on the list. Spring 2013 in Italy -- what could be so bad about that? The good news is that the recent uptick in the stock market means that I will likely be able to afford one more stay in France this fall, after which I feel that my French will surely be pretty decent. The recent uptick in the stock market may also finance renovation of the master bathroom in San Francisco, a project that Brad is already fantasizing about starting once he gets home -- God bless him, he loves to have a project to work on. Do I feel guilty about reaping the benefits of late-stage capitalism and living off my dividends? Not even a tiny little bit.

The second, more frivolous, possibility was triggered by my purchase, for less than 5 Euros of this fine item at the Pompidou Center gift store on Friday afternoon:

With the self-explanatory title "I learn how to draw animals", even in two days, I'm sure you will agree that it has borne fruit:

So the plan is roughly this. Once I have the animals down (I figure two weeks, max) I go back to the gift store and pick up the set "I learn how to draw people". After 3 weeks of intensive practice, I should be ready to set up shop on the sidewalks of Montmartre, at which point the euros will just start rolling in. As I have an Irish passport, there should be no worries about visas or work permits. Et voila !

Pretty nifty, eh? But what are one's fifties for, if not to explore one's hitherto unplumbed depths? My muse is calling to me.

And there's always the Italian plan to fall back on, in the unlikely event that I don't thrive in the cutthroat world of tourist-fleecing Montmartre sidewalk portraiture.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Paris?