Sunday, July 13: Un dimanche à Paris

The idea that there isn’t much going on in Paris on Sundays is only partially true. A lot of stores are closed but a lot of museums are open, the metro runs, and some big businesses or popular locations open their doors (although I think they pay some kind of tax penalty for this privilege). For instance, I was surprised to discover that the Orange (mobile phone) store on the Champs-Elysées is open on Sunday afternoon. But they are clearly making money via people who need some kind of service at that time. I happened to be there right at the opening time (1:00 p.m.) and there were at least a dozen people waiting, with more coming in once the doors opened. I like the idea that not everything has to be open 24/7–it makes you plan your life better and act more patient. There may be some truth to the idea that the French embrace their downtime a little too enthusiastically, but I can attest firsthand to Americans’ culpability in not taking downtime seriously enough. We get less vacation time than most other developed nations and then when we get it, we don’t take it! At minimum it makes for an interesting clash of cultures when the 24/7 Americans meet the 35-hour-work-week French.

Since I was in the neighborhood (sort of) I took the recommendation of an esteemed friend and went to the Musée Jacquemart-André this afternoon. This museum seems much less well known than the others I’ve been to–on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the day before Bastille Day, there was no line and it was not bustling with tourists. It is a 19th-century mansion built by a wealthy banker’s son, Edouard André, to house and display his and his wife’s (Nélie Jacquemart–she was a painter herself) art collection. When he died, the house and its collections were left to the Institut de France and it opened as a museum in 1913. It is a beautiful space: elaborate but not overwhelming. And as an 18th-century specialist, I was in heaven. A lot of the art dates to the 18th century and the styling of the house itself–as it is presented now–recalls that era. The special exhibition on display was focused on the fêtes galantes paintings of Watteau, Fragonard, and other artists who participated in that style: a sort of dressed-up version of the pastoral in which elegant people in beautiful clothes have a lovely (and sometimes slightly risqué) time in a fantastical woodland setting. The more paintings I’m exposed to, the more I enjoy looking at paintings because I often encounter familiar themes or people I recognize  Two of the paintings by Nicolas Lancret that I saw today incorporated La Camargo, a celebrity at the time Lancret was painting. Most of the fête galante paintings don’t depict actual people but the idea of an idyllic party in the country, possibly featuring some shenanigans, certainly reflects things I’m familiar with from eighteenth-century culture. And like many places I’ve been recently, it’s worth going just to see the building. The tour includes 3-4 rooms from the Andrés’ private apartments. I always love seeing how people lived “back then,” though I still can’t quite imagine living in such an elaborate space every day–and with corsets on, at that.

At the end of my tour through the museum I decided to have a coffee in the café and read my roman polar for a while (have learned the difference between a polar, which is more like a noir thriller, and a policier, which is just a regular detective novel). It was only a little more expensive than at a regular café and I got to enjoy being seated next to a gentleman of a certain age and his young Swedish girlfriend, speaking English to each other because that was the language they had in common, and him holding her hand the entire time. To his credit he seemed unable to believe his luck, as well he should have been. Across from me were 2 women, one of whom was wearing several thousand dollars’ worth of accessories (Gucci loafers, Birkin bag, and a watch I couldn’t identify because I’m not fancy enough) and who wouldn’t stop being rude to the server. She was like a caricature brought to life; I didn’t think those types existed. Between the coffee (which was very good), the book, and the other patrons I got my money’s worth out of that museum café.

Got a little lost coming out of the museum and walked too far through the 8th arrondissement in search of a metro. I don’t know what it is about the 8th–maybe just lack of exposure–but I usually get turned around when I go there. Finally I found Gare St. Lazare and made my way back in time for dinner and laundry. Tomorrow is Bastille Day; I’m thinking of going out for the parade but it will all depend on the weather. A little blue sky is peeking through right now, but what will tomorrow bring?

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