Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Artists in Paris

An American in Europe, Henry Clay Crockett, London Printing and Publishing Company, 1850

"We travel, or rather dreamily wander round and round."--The American in Europe
"Montmartre, a hundred years ago, was much more distant from Paris than it is now  It was the heart of a rich and beautiful country, but the encroachments of the great growing monster--the city."

We looked around at the Universite de Paris, where many Americans are known to study during their time abroad.  We are not taking time to study on this journey, instead learning as we go through the world’s classroom.  But if I were to take time somewhere around the world, I think it would be here.  There are artists and writers and chemists and philosophers: so many famous pioneers of the world of learning.  The universite has a chemistry class in which Marie Curie is a guest lecturer.  The philosophy department celebrates the groundbreaking work of Descartes.  But for me, the true draw is the writers, both French and foreign, who call Paris their home.

Sitting on the left banks of the Seine, the presence of the Lost Generation of writers is everywhere.  Hemingway and Fitzgerald live here now, producing some of their best work while away from their American home. Right here in Montmartre, the Left Bank’s artistic center, artists and intellectuals flock together and celebrate creation. The inspiration is everywhere, from the old houses and apartments of Picasso, Dali, Rousseau, Matisse, and more.  The cafes are filled with struggling writers drowning in social inspiration.  We lunched in one of the cafes where Hemingway is known to be spotted, and although there were many dark, brooding men alone at tables with multiple glasses of whiskey, we did not catch a glimpse of him.  We felt at home, surrounded by all these Americans in Paris, but it also felt quite unfair, that we were here taking over and transforming the beautiful French culture.

Intellectually stimulated for more than our fair share, we spent the afternoon and into the evening shopping Paris’s smaller flower and bird markets. They are tucked away from the main Rues, and buy and sell everything imaginable: fresh flowers, plants, pets, livestock, meat, fruit, cheeses, warm bread, wine, and every other small luxury that makes Paris so enjoyable. The Parisian matrons were yelling in French, haggling on dinner supplies for their family while the boys played with sticks in the dirt and the girls followed closely behind their mothers, learning the ways of the market.  We were surely out of place, as not a single person spoke English, though many stall keepers tried to attract us with short bursts of English phrases: “Pretty things! I sell you!” they called uncomfortably.  We purchased more bread and cheese than we could eat for a week, some precious trinkets and fabric to bring home, and a bouquet of fresh flowers for the matron at our boarding house in the 7th Arrondisement.
Jardin Mabile, Paris, where we explored after hours in the City of Lights.

 The hustle and bustle of the city life was surely still present here, but tucked away from the city we were able to enjoy ourselves more, and I really pictured myself coming back and making a life here among the artists and bohemians.

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