Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wherein sister 2 goes to Paris and finds a charango teacher

Dear sisters,

I went to Paris. The idea was irrational. I get like that sometimes. I ended up (re)discovering an art student card gets you into all art museums for free! You don’t even have to queue or pay for the special exhibitions. I discovered this after the queue, of course. I went to Muséee d’Orsay for the first time in my life, for I had some gaps to fill. One of the aimed at gaps still remains.

Courbet’s L’atelier du peintre was packed off ready for the whopper show coming in October. (I’ll have to be irrational again) As Mieke Bal pointed out to us, the thing with the artist's studio is that one might wonder if the painter is ignoring the woman (an allegory of painting, after all). Careful inspection should reveal though, that he is poking his brush in the bushes. Anyone in doubt only has to look at the painting next to it (which thankfully, was present) La Source. Femininity in all its bliss.

I am still wondering how I am going to handle being both allegory and painter and the same time! I am sure I can count on you to bring me back down to earth sistars!

Last year something similar timingwise happened when I headed for Versailles, especially to see the hall of mirrors and it was half covered for restoration. But as always there I was stupéfaite by things I never dreamed would reach me.

One thing I am noticing these days, now that I have a different approach to seeing (something to do with a liberating detachment from a reverence for Art History which happened to me not so long ago) is that so many museums are full of junk. This serves a purpose, for it is a ground against which the masterpieces really do jump out. Kind of like the cruel pro-Antwerp installation some years ago, of two contemporary floral paintings, in the Museum of Fine Arts: there they were, side by side, a minor Italian imitation flat thing alongside an absolute bijou of a devotional flower piece by Daniël Seghers painted with such delicacy you could almost feel the translucent petals against your skin and yet they were so completely paint: a poem. Seghers upstaged the I-talian hands-down, one would think the curators would have shown a little more discretion, but no. This was the definition of a curatorial gloat.

So there was one flat landscape after another, boring me to tears and then suddenly Eugène Delacroix’s painting almost jumps off the walls at me. I would even go so far as to say that the other stuff doesn’t even qualify as painting: I seem to have wiped it clear from my memory. Camillle Corot also rocked me, no less so because it had something of the gesture/tones used by Geraldine Gliubislavich, a painter whose work I recently had the honour of hanging beside (I mean, my painting did). Kind of like the burnt sienna lines loosely depicting the landscape were reaching out at me. You know these lines they have a life all of their own. Eye, eye! I shout! I love it when painting goes 3D. Painting is a peculiar, solitary activity, so it is nice when painters reach out to each other in solidarity across time.

One of Geraldine's pieces.

My charango elicited inquisitive looks from the security guards. I had fun trying to explain to the nice-Asian-coat-check-boy-with-beautiful-voice what an armadillo is. I made a drawing in the end. Carrying a charango around wins you lots of friends; even when you can’t play it yet. I caught a whiff of perfume on the street and got a sample sprayed on me in the perfume shop. It was a scent made with orange and ginger. I know blogs don’t have a scratch and sniff function yet, so do please imagine, or believe: I smelt delightful.

The afternoon brought a really nice encounter with Geraldine, who lives in Paris. She took me to Georges the brasserie on the roof of Beaubourg (Pompidou)…which has an amazing view and snooty service, Paris style, which melted into kindness towards the end of our visit, kind of at the same time as the view became rainy. Then we went to Younès Rahmoun’s opening. Then a visit to La Cité des Arts, an artist’s residency place full of artists. We did a singing session, with my hostess Bérénice (you recall of the hammam) stellar in her performance of a Breton folk tune. She had no idea what the words meant but the spirit was all there. She sounded like a singing light house. At her house we met her roommate who is the sweetest girl who does make-up at the Folies Bergères. I listened to them papoter about their lives, feeling like I was having a peep into their existence in a big and burly city, and soon fell asleep. Next day I accompanied B. to her work at Synesthesie in Saint-Denis. The suburbs, she warned me. Younès’ piece was amazing. He rebuilt the space under the stairs at his parents’ house, which he had arranged to work in. This construction responds to the movements of the person sitting inside. As the person calms down, lights outside start glowing. 99 green ones. He is a remarkable artist whom I shall be happy to follow. The colour green for him stands for paradise and he believes you can find it in yourself wherever you are.

My day ended back at the cité where Younès and Khalid made an amazing wholegrain bulgour couscous with meat and vegetables, which was like paradise: soul food for the journey ahead. My wish of finding a charango teacher was granted in the bus when Alfie from Colombia whom I had also met on the way there called around all her friends and got a hold of Raoul. I had my very first lesson the very next day.
And the day after Raoul invited me to his church, where I learnt lots of Spanish. Church was preceeded by breakfast and their son informed me that there are only 9 ice-cream parlours on the Meir, the main shopping street, while there are over 120 clothing stores. He found this fact remarkable if not a great injustice. He said: “you know, Belgium is tiny on the world map but there are lots of things in it”. Their daughter explained to me their whole family tree and the exact location of every member. It is funny how, when I spoke of “here”, she thought I meant their street; elsewhere in Antwerp or Belgium was “there”. And their great mum Rocio explained to me her beautiful name means DEW.

The church was fine, as churches go, and the reverend or whatever you call the person at the front of the room made a good job of entertaining whilst passing on his message. I got a little uneasy when the group prayer on one of the members began, and felt like running out of the room (it just all went science fiction on me) but I could see they meant well. I politely declined to be converted but I tell you I have been thinking in Spanish all the next day. Must be a cheap way of learning a language! Although how much phrases such as “speaking in tongues” and “interpreting the mystery” come in handy on a daily basis, is not entirely clear to me. Hey, in my life, anything is possible! They were kind people, although I felt a slight sense of accusation in the question; “Are you a Christian????” from the vicar or priest’s wife, and forgot to answer what I had written on my imagined Casablanca t-shirt, cos I felt so sorry about disappointing her; but being there in that modest space that looked like it was housed in a garage from the street I felt an agreeable shift in my sense of place. This is Antwerp after all, right? A cosmopolitan city!! After the church R. and his children trooped back to their house for a party and invited me to join in, and like an idiot I went home. For all I know I could have been singing happy birthday to new friends. Instead a quiet afternoon in the peaceful, sunny solitude of my own home which was also quite nice and necessary after the exertions of being in Gay Paree. Probably nowhere near as fun.
Missing you! Great thing indeed about the operation, keep up the valiant spirit!
Love from sista 2

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