“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Random Updates

With classes gradually starting, I've had sort of a strange schedule and have been doing lots of small, random things throughout the past week or so, so here's an update!

King Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)
I've taken a few more trips back to the Louvre - I think I've been there 4 times now? - and still haven't seen everything. Sometimes I go in for a quick fly through with friends, and other times I prefer to go alone so I can see what I want at my own pace. It's been abnormally hot here the past two weeks, with blistering sun and temperatures hitting 85 many days, which is quite unusual here for this time of year. Because of this, I have to admit that on one of those hot days I ducked into the Louvre to check out the gallery of paintings from Northern Europe mainly because I knew that they'd have that wing cooled off in order to protect the fragile paintings. Upon opening the doors to that gallery, my suspicions were pleasantly confirmed. It's also an added bonus that that particular section of the Louvre is not nearly as popular with the hoards of tourists that stampede to air conditioning (a rarity in Paris!) in packs of 50 or 60 at a whack - so I was able to beat the heat and the crowds, score!

l’Opéra Bastille
Another day, I took a tour of l’Opéra Bastille, Paris' second most-famous opera house after the picturesque l’Opéra Garnier. Inaugurated in 1989, housing just over 2,700 seats (making it among the largest in the world), the theater's perfect acoustics assure that there's never a need for performers to use microphones.  

Stage decorations of scandalous paintings of women for the opera Lulu
Our guide, Patrick, was very knowledgeable about the theater and guided us through each of its rooms, including exclusive behind-the-scenes locales not normally open to the public. We started off our tour in the deepest depths of the opera's basement, l'enfer, or Hell as it's known in the theater world. He showed us the theater's massive elevators capable of lifting, I kid you not, 500 tons of equipment up 90 meters to the main stage in under 4 minutes. Everything in the theater is automated and very technologically advanced, which even I could appreciate, even though I am not big into engineering.

Making snow-covered trees in the scenery workshop
We followed our guide, who had clearly consumed more than his fair share of wine before our tour, through the scenery and costume workshops at the back of the theater, and it was really amazing to see all the cool things that were being put together by a team of extremely talented artists. We were even led up onto the stage where the scenery for the famous opera Salomé was set up. Although the curtain was closed so we couldn't see out into the part of the hall with all the seats, it was still a neat experience to be in the middle of such a huge stage!

Inside the main opera hall
Our tour ended up in the best seats in the house, in paradis (you guessed it, "heaven"), way up in the center of the upper balcony. The view from here was amazing, and it really makes me want to head back there to catch a performance. There's really no bad seat in the house, and with perfect acoustics, you really can't go wrong. Tickets start at only 10 euros (like $13), so I'm looking into seeing anything I can get a ticket for!

"Le Yéti" by Fred Sapey-Triomphe
Paris also had it's 10th annual "Nuit Blanche" ("Sleepless Night") this past Saturday. It's hard to describe, but the night is pretty much an outdoor trek through Paris to see a bunch of contemporary art exhibits staged exclusively for this one evening. Two of Paris' metro lines and all of its night buses are free and run continuously from 6pm til 6am, making transportation between each neighborhood with a circuit of exhibits quite easy. 

Visitor beware, Nuit Blanche turns into a night of drunken debauchery in the streets of Paris, and lines for many of the exhibits were so long it was impossible to see them without spending over 3 hours in line!  I had had a very long week, going out many nights in a row, so needless to stay I had to throw in the towel and headed home around 4am. The above picture is of one of the exhibits that I visited...not one for contemporary art, visiting a giant, furry, neon-red glowing yeti surrounded by flashing at 3am was a little bizarre for me, but I guess in a way it was still...interesting?

My classes at Paris 3, the French university I am attending while here, finally started today. I had my first class called "Cinema and Propaganda" today, which sounds like it will be very thought-provoking, despite the overcrowded, undersized, thousand-and-one degree classroom full of students who talk loudly through the entire class and could really care less about being there! Definitely a change from Providence College, where classes of more than 15 students are rare and no one dares speak while the professor is lecturing - it'll take some getting used to, but it's already making me appreciate the American system of higher education, as I have spent the last week jumping through hoops and searching high and low for answers to questions that none of the administration seems to concern themselves with. So after a slightly frustrating first day, I'm hoping my other class at Paris 3, "Culture and Communication," which starts on Thursday, will be a better experience.

Musée d'Orsay
On the other hand, I'm really enjoying the other classes I'm taking through Sweet Briar, the college I'm here with. At their institute, I'm taking "The History of Paris Through Its Monuments" and "Impressionism and Post-Impressionism." For the history one, we have 1:30 of lecture each week, followed by an hour-and-a-half during which we visit the place/monument/museum we have been talking about. Last class, for instance, we talked about Notre Dame, and then rounded out the day with a visit there, which really helps to cement the things you learn about in class into your brain when you can physically see what the professor's talking about instead of just a picture of it on a projector screen in a classroom. And as for my Impressionist class, we alternate weeks between classroom lectures and full lectures in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris' renowned museum of 19th century art where an extensive collection of Impressionist paintings are housed. These two classes are really fun, and I'm sure they'll make up for the stressfulness of the other two university classes I have.

In other, more exciting news, I just finished booking weekend trips to London and Amsterdam with some friends in November! My class schedule happened to work out so I don't have class on Mondays or Fridays, giving me convenient 4-day weekends throughout the semester...so I figured I'd better take advantage of them! Starting mid-October, I have lots of trips coming up - I can't wait! Our program is spending a weekend in Normandy, then my family's coming to visit and we're off to Venice one weekend and the Champagne region of France the next. Combine that with the trips I just booked & I've got a lot to get excited about :) I also have friends in Germany and Morocco who I'm hoping I'll have the time/money/free weekends to visit...only time will tell!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rach,

    Once again, nice post. We're getting very, very psyched to see you in a little over 2 weeks-it's really getting close. Can't wait to give you a squeeze too :)

    Love you tons and see you soon!