Thursday, July 23, 2009
A Last Look at Paris -- Palaces
We've been home for almost a week, but Paris still lingers in the mind; especially two palaces we visited: the Louvre and Fontainebleau Chateau. (Fontainebleau is on the left.)
I'd always thought of the Louvre as an art museum -- which it is, and has been, since 1793. But first, it was a palace. And if you look at the enormity of the complex of buildings from across the river, you can see it was a big one. The Louvre is so big, that you can't possibly explore it in one day. Even a week wouldn't be long enough. We went for as much art as we could absorb in one visit. The rooms of paintings and statues were endless. We contented ourselves with seeing lots of Corot's paintings (we've always admired him), some El Grecos and Goyas, Leonardo Da Vinci, of course. Which brings me to the Mona Lisa. It's truly a beautiful and mysterious painting. But some of his other portraits were beautiful and mysterious too. It's interesting how attention will focus on one example of a painter's remarkable art and overshadow all others.
When we got to the statues of antiquity, the marble figures were truly arresting. To think of something sculpted so long ago: figures from every walk of life in olden times, looking so lifelike despite their stone pallor. The Winged Victory, and the Venus de Milo each had their own pride of place, and well they should. Their very postures abound with "story". Who were the models? (Which brings up a bonus from this trip with practical value for me: I can use some of those statue pictures to practice figure drawing.)
The next day we went to Fontainebleau, taking the metro to Gare de Lyon, then the train to the village, about 35 miles from the heart of Paris. My goal for this trip was to see the Fontainebleau Forest, which figures in four of my stories. I wanted to see if I got the ambience and setting right. (I did.) We spent the whole day in Fontainebleau, and decided to take a tour of the castle at its center. First we ate lunch at a good Indian restaurant. Then we walked around the grounds, which went on and on: Gardens , courtyards, parks, small man-made lakes, and a canal, fringed by the forest (which originally was the royal hunting preserve).
Finally we entered the palace -- a palace that makes the Louvre seem small by comparison. Room after room, incredibly decorated, painted, gilded, added to and further embellished, as various kings had their day, including Napoleon when he was emperor. It's a giddy feeling, standing in the living quarters of those who have made history, trying to imagine their lives. Even for those who lived there, ruling or simply taking care of the rulers, I could imagine getting lost on a regular basis. Given the fact that Palace of Versailles is supposed to be bigger and more opulent, and that numerous other palaces abound throughout France, you can understand the French Revolution.
It was a beautiful tour, though, crammed with facts and anecdotes (we had those little wands). We were both glad we went. However, at closing time we almost got locked in because I was still in the chapel, listening to a chamber orchestra practice for some concert. Great accoustics, so you can imagine the size of the chapel.
The next time I read a historical novel based in France, I'll surely have a new appreciation for its setting.