Paris for the First Time
We set off with a loose idea of where we were going, which is to say, an inkling, and not much else.
Once we escaped the main drag, the traffic and the shops, that was when the city started to emerge as the ethereal and enchanting, depicted in so much of the art and writing drawn from its distinction. The Eiffel Tower peered out from afar, and then hid once more. Rows and rows of elegant apartments sculpted the streets. There is an abundance of charming buildings and gardens. It’s hard to know what are the most significant, where to stop and pause. Was Hemingway drinking here at this corner cafe. Was Cezanne once behind that leaf laden wall painting the autumn trees in a resplendent morning light. Was this the market that Monty Don stopped by to taste fresh strawberries that his potager friend in the south of France had grown. People, stories and ideas have been and gone.
Paris is not an accidental place. The symmetry, the colours, the tip of the hat to timelessness. It’s a city that does not want you to rush.
Meandering is what Paris calls for. Long lunches. Wandering through art galleries. Wandering through the laneways and along the riverside. An afternoon dozing and reading in a dappled park corner.
A sense of calm is found in the gardens stretched out in squares of the city.
Weaving ones way back towards the Seine with baguette in hand encourages you to adopt the pace of the river. To stroll.
A once-in-a-lifetime lunch was had in the gardens to the side of the Louvre square at a place called LouLou. The sun was shining; the sky was smooth blue, clear and vibrant. Looking out over the glistening emerald lawns and carefully assembled garden beds with a class of sparkling in hand is a Parisian moment to relish. Late autumnal warmth after a cool morning has people out lounging, kids playing and many reading in the generous, cascading sunshine.
Reading the newspaper in Paris is commonplace. Around the fountain, most people have a newspaper open or resting in their lap. They recline and turn their head up to bask in the sun. The classic French garden chairs in oak green with arm rests are scattered along the paths. ‘Please, take a seat, there’s no hurry,’ they gesture.
When standing inches in front of an original painting from Renoir, rich in layers of vibrancy yet demureness, stillness and movement- it could still be wet. Renoir has merely popped out for a tipple in the garden, leaving his momentary capture of feeling on its own to find solace. That’s what it is in this field of blooming Impressionism: feeling. Emotion, expression, insinuation and wonder. It is a vast excursion into colour shades and light; light from different angles and different times of the day.
How arduous it is to capture a glimpse of the world that changes ardently. A flower caught halfway through its daily unveiling to the sun and the bees. A leaf attached to a spindly branch, clutching on in the upturn of wind. The elusive glisten of movement just below the surface of the pond. A man’s melancholic gaze as he accepts his nearing death, unbeknown to the family working in the montage of moment and colour of life. Impressionism is alive. The painting could still be wet. It is blooming as it continues to grow and intersect with moments of our present day lives.
The train from Gare Saint-Lazare station runs to Vernon, a quaint little hamlet close to Giverny. Giverny is home to Claude Monet’s pastel pink home, with leaf green shutters. The house and the surrounding garden fit together like the sea hugging the land.
Riding push bikes through the countryside along the river Seine felt like stepping into Monet’s shoes. Nobody was around. The dirt crunched under the bike wheels. The birds cheeped and flipped through the dappled light. The canopy of trees danced in the reflective river light. Idyllic. Quiet.
Monet said, “I must have flowers, always, and always.” He was attuned to the power of nature and its ability to heal wounds and sorrows.
In his garden he felt his way through the growing process. He did not fashion the garden in a way that Paris and Versailles and many royal garden designers once did, with straight lines and order. He let it move and be rambling. Yet, Monet did search for beauty endlessly and changed things where he could, to bring the beauty forward and into his heart and art. He had the art in him. He did the doing, the drawing, the painting, the crafting, and the toil. He did not ponder the doing as many of us do, but like Australian artist Margaret Olley that was to follow his zeal, he got busy doing, capturing and creating because that was what he loved. His home and his garden and his things were art, always, and became so to others when he captured what he saw, something that others often miss. Again, to meander in an unhurried way is to see and marvel at the little things that bloom and perish, and rise and fall. An impression of the world around us.
In places like this, that now battles daily with the footsteps, the phones and incessant commentary of modern people hankering instantaneous ‘things’, the landscape a little way away from the township seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, a return to normality, to the way this place once was.
Akin to Paris, it is in the quiet corners, the vacant benches, the cafe in the morning, still sleepy yet awakening with the fragrance of ground coffee and baking croissants- these moments allow for the enchanting nature to idle up beside the architecture, which flows into the art, the swish of a classy skirt and the clink of a glistening glass reflected in the river that gentle passes by the city and the countryside, just as we do.
Hordes of noisy tourists pass by, ducking under a bridge on a wide boat. The symbol of Paris is a boat. Fluctuate nec mergitur-‘Tossed by the waves but refuses to sink’. Paris too relishes the quiet moments when the masses retire from their sightseeing. There is disruption, but it holds steady. Gently as she goes.
Article and photography by Sinead Halliday