Saturday, June 5, 2010

Getting Medieval

Today was All Medieval All the Time (with a modernist pause for a picnic in the park and a shoe purchase or two). We themed our day starting in the Cluny, whose visit culminated in a marvelous conversation/meditation before the incredible Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries. In the art of courtly love, women hold sway/have power - does this reflect some aspect of lived reality? is it an escapist fantasy? what does it mean for a woman to exercise power? to display it? We talked of this and more, in the medieval and in the modern, all of it in the hushed lighting of that beautiful room. The Cluny keeps growing and putting new pieces out: a tapestry of St. Marguerite of Antioch which had been stolen in 1910 (!) had been returned (!!); an entire room of the art of combat (shields, gauntlets, manuscripts of combat); an absolutely incredible small wooden treasure box (the wooden ones never survive!) with scenes of courtly love; and leather treasure boxes with lovers stretching towards each other across the lock (discuss!). The beloved classics were there as well: the golden altars, the monstrance reliquary (for the tears of Christ), the German altarpieces (the birth of graphic realism? - yikes).

Lunch was in the Luxembourg Gardens, site of many memories of my student days (and, in the springtime, of books furtively, deliciously read). Paris is crowded, Paris is full, Paris is lush. I realize that I've only visited in the winter with students over the past few years. So seeing these crowds (and the babies! the babies are out!) is a re-discovery. Everybody loves Paris.

I had the best intentions of going past (nay, in) Saint-Germain-des-Prés, but was sidetracked (ok, lured) by the possibility of shoe bliss provided by Camper. Much gratified by the purchase of two pairs of shoes (woo-ha!), I pressed on with valiant Mallory and wonderful Alison up to the Sainte-Chapelle. There's a restoration project on from 2008-2013, and sure enough, they are working their way around the stained glass. It is going to be MAGNIFICENT!!! The dear apostles (I always imagine them to be a little sad, to be so outshone by the stained glass) will also be restored. This is the first time since the 19th century that there's been such an effort. A new lease on life for this architecture-as-reliquary. Louis IX (and I always love this detail) bought the relics of the Passion (huge chunk of the Cross, and the Crown of Thorns) from a very impoverished Bladwin of Constantinople in 1248, and needed an architecture for the new France (France as the Holy Land) to house them. Enter, the Sainte-Chapelle. The Sainte-Chapelle and the relics suffered many vicissitudes during the French Revolution (the Sainte-Chapelle was an archive upstairs, and a horse stable downstairs, and the relics were mostly dispersed) - but you can view what remains of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns (in their 19th century reliquaries) at Notre-Dame de Paris on the first Friday of each month at 3 p.m. - this is a new initiative: they used to only bring those out every 50 years for Jubilees. Interesting, non?

And then dinner, delicious rewarding dinner, was at the Méchoui du Prince on Rue Monsieur Le Prince, one of the coziest streets in Paris running between Saint Germain and Saint Michel. There are few things more comforting than a delicious meal with friends with whom you have walked and talked your way through hundreds of years of history in one day (we had several conversations about the Breton Resistance, as well). Tomorrow will be sunny again, and this great city will rise to its sleepy Sunday to thrill millions once again.

Meanwhile, you should know that everybody in Brittany is doing great: today was Carnac in all its glory, and Mac and the kids made it to the beach (Carnac Plage!) and they all had a blast (not too warm that water, but hey, the beach!). Last time I was in Paris I had bought Iris a little fan at the Invalides (most sophisticated). Well, apparently, this fan is with her at all times now, and she has decided that she wishes to be sophisticated which, Mac reports, is adding up to her being incredibly well-behaved and helpful. Yea, Iris! Thank you, Iris! Lots of love in the air.

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