Bonne Année – from Paris with love NYE 2015/16

Firstly thank you very much for all of you who have stopped by and read my ramblings this year I hope that I have not bored you too much, as its very much appreciated.
As 2015 came to an end I was in Paris to welcome in 2016. Culture food and mental respite to start the ew year off well and to hopefully set the tone for 2016.

As well as indulging in my usual Parisian traditions staying at the same hotel, eating at a couple of regular restaurants, this new year I decided to be brave and explore more of the city on foot, and brave the crowds at the Musée d’Orsay – Going mid week off peak season is most definitely the best way to deal with museums in Paris. if you have ever been to the louvre in the afternoon in summer on a Saturday or Sunday in front of the Mona Lisa you will understand why I avoid the big Galleries and Museums unless I am in Paris midweek and off Peak.

Although you have to pay to get into the museums in Paris and go through airport style security the cost of entry does get you into the temporary exhibitions as well as the museums permanent collections and is less than half what you would pay for a major exhibition in London. However the fact that our permanent exhibitions are free and can be accessed whenever you want is appealing I have been known to kill 30 minutes before an interview or meeting in a major Museum for no cost something I could not afford do if I had to pay to access the museum each visit. I don’t think that there are any easy answers for funding of museums, culture and arts but as a visitor I have no problem paying to get into major museums in places I don’t live as a local to London with easy access to the big museums I am also glad I can visit for nothing.

I has been at least 2 decades since I last set foot in the Musée d’Orsey,, the converted railway station situated on the bank of the Seine. The museum is home to a wide range of art from sculpture, to Manet, to Van Gogh to art deco on the furniture. The best comparison to London would be the V&A in London.

There was a reason I chose d’orsey over the Louvre and that was because there is currently a temporary exhibition on that I wanted to see; Splendour and Misery, Pictures of Prostitution 1850-1910.

The exhibition opens with a Quote from Balzac:

La prosititution et le vol sout deux protestations vivantes Mâle et femelle de l’est neuturel contre l’etat social

Balzac 1847

the exhibition showed work from the greats of the time including Bérand, Van Gogh, Degas and Manet but one of the biggest and and most relevant artists to feature was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec famed for his libertine lifestyle and association with the Moulin Rouge and the “actresses and dancers” as well as the courtesans.

The audio guide was very detailed in fact several times I skipped bits as the information went on too long and for me I felt that it drifted from the point.

I did find some of the tit bits f information given though very interesting. only women of loose morals (ie ladies of the night would drink Alcoholic beverages namely Absinthe (aka the green fairy) in public. the cafes and bars became the waiting rooms for the street walkers of Paris.

Another shocking fact was that the national ballet was basically a showcase of pretty girls for dirty old men to choose from they were then pimped out at a higher rate than mere hookers and many of the men who had season tickets paid the premium not for the art or love f ballet but to have access to young slight girls.

I will never be able to look at degas’ pictures of Ballerinas in the same light. if your expecting to see pornographic images in this exhibition then you will be disappointed. there is a small section partitioned off with a curtain with has photographs of real women who worked as sex workers in various stares of undress, some in poses that would not look out of place in the internet porn age. I am not sure if I find the fact that these real women are hidden behind a curtain for modesty as respectful or insulting. These women were clearly happy to pose for such images and in many cases no less sexually explicit that the painted images and yet because they are real rather captured on a camera rather than via a paint brush they are seen as more shameful or needing more modesty. if this had been London I could understand it as the english are more conservative and prudish but in Paris I found this strange as a general observation.

I would say that the lack of seating in such a large exhibition was frustrating. and when there was seating later on in the exhibition it enclosed a display cabinet so people would jostle and push to see the items displayed. The items displayed included the early 20th century version of a phone booth card advertising a woman’s services rendered and description, and very pretty and modern looking early condom packages. There is clearly a reason why they were known as French letters in slang before they became easily accessible in the UK.

Every generation says this when they see and hear the next generation discovering the pleasures of the flesh, they did not invent sex pleasure or orgasms. A great eye opener was some the accessories displayed, including whips – sexual tastes and fetishes and practices such as bondage and BDSM did not evolve from 50 shades of mummy porn, yes men and women have enjoyed spanking and engaging in less conservative sex for many many years.

Another interesting aspect of the exhibition was that Toulouse-Lautrec also painted images of that most that most fantasised subject of female homosexuality. given the time period covered by the exhibition this is very liberated and open minded during a time when homosexuality was illegal and thought of as a grave sin.

Not surprisingly there wasn’t any sign of male prostitution either for the male or female market depicted in the exhibition from what I could see. Male homosexuality was definitely more taboo than lesbianism and even if there was a gap in the market for females seeking a male sex for hire I doubt that there were very many of them that could afford a male prostitute unless they were a woman of independent means and even less artists willing to capture this in paint or photography during the time period of the exhibition.

One of the most haunting and beautiful pictures featured was in the show was Olympia by Manet. She is clearly an imitation of Titan’s Venus of Urbino (Titans version is my all time favourite picture) she is not in my opinion as beautiful or womanly as Titian’s ground breaking painting however I will concede she is arresting. Instead of a small dog at the end of the bed, Olympia has a black cat with an erect tail. The association of cats with female sexual organs and the association of black cats and witches and the symbolic erect tale of the cat were seen as crude symbolism where Manet may not have intended there to be any hidden meaning. The painting was not received warmly when it was first exhibited.

the exhibition is on until the 17th of January this year so if your in Paris before then do go and see t if you have a curious open mind.

the rest of the Musée d’Orsay is well worth a mooch around. you will find masterpieces from Van Gogh, Sculptures, Art Nouveau furniture as well as a small copy of Eiffel’s Statue of liberty. the Iconic clock that was once the station clock is there and a stunning side waiting room with decorative celling that has been turned into a restaurant with some funky chairs. The food is fine but it is canteen style prepared food good in quality but tepid rather than warm. The whole process felt rushed.

This time elected to get off the metro and walk a bit more see the real Paris rather than the tourist Parts.

Is true that its a city of apartment living. I have always loved french supermarches and I loved mooching around the isles. It saddened me to see that there was an increase of ready meals in the isles. There was a new Burger King in the Montparnasse neighbourhood and this also saddened me.

The down side to travelling at this time of year is that it is cold season …. the whole trip i had “birdflu” as in bird = female and flu as in cold. Unlike the UK you can not buy cold and flu remedies in the supermarket you have to go to the Pharmacie and in my case try and get across what the problem is in pigeon french (mind you it helped looking grim and snotty). The bonus of this is the drugs are better. Although not cured I had far better medication than I could have got in the supermarket at home. Also if you go picking mushrooms in France and you want to make sure which ones are safe to eat the local chemist can tell you (granted you wont need this in Paris but it is worth noting)

Birdflu stopped me from heading out on New Years eve but from all account the big sites la tour Eiffel and the Champs Elyses where packed. transport was free until lunch time on 1st but many shops and restaurants and attractions were late opening or closed on the 1st bank holidays in France (and Europe generally as well as Sundays) are upheld. But the bonus is that attractions such as the great churches of the city that are normally crowded are less busy so you can utilize them.

This was exactly what I did I headed to Sacre Coeur on Montmartre. I have seen it and walked past many times but never been in. It was well worth the climb

It might have been the good weather (9-11 degrees at the end of December) no wind and v little rain, it might have been that it was off peak season and midweek but I highly recommend a trip to Paris in the winter (dare I say I prefer it to the summer when its warm and busy?!)

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