With Thanksgiving to myself this year, I decided to take advantage of super cheap airfare on Air Canada to Paris and book a trip where I got to decide where I wanted to go….no input (argument) from children that dread the Louvre, husbands that dread shopping, picky eaters that dread all non-American food! I booked my Airbnb and hoped the protests by the Gilets Jaunes would allow me to get to my apartment without too much fuss. As it would turn out, the taxi trip was quick, unfettered by street protests. My only delay regarding the taxi trip was that I neglected to ask my taxi driver if he accepted credit cards…a mistake I will never make again after a stern dressing down from said taxi driver and a trip to an ATM that felt like a scene form a Fast and Furious movie. Mental note: Always ask before getting into a cab!
Picking up my key from the boucherie downstairs after proving I really was renting the place and not looking to steal any precious tchotchkes, I lugged my suitcase up the tiny slices of pie shaped stairs. (It’s not that there isn’t an elevator; it’s that the stairs are 8 inches wide and shaped like the piece of pie you might be served at a weight loss resort.) Since it’s 30F in the apartment, I turn the knob on the radiator so eventually it will warm up. What I don’t realize is that this did absolutely nothing because the controls are hidden behind a panel in the kitchen. Of course had I read the handy booklet provided, I would have figured that out and not spent my first night shivering, fully dressed, under everything that I could find to pile on top of myself to stay above freezing. Mental note 2: Read the welcome manual.
Since I wanted to be free to roam and wander, I did no planning prior to my trip. I had been to Paris a few times so I had already visited all of the required attractions. I am not a foodie, so reservations at restaurants weren’t a priority. I knew I’d be perfectly happy buying carry-out to eat in the park and I had plenty of options to choose from. Without a limitless budget, or even a decent budget, my priorities were parks, people watching, browsing galleries and shops, and saving my money for museums. The highlight of my trip was a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton with it’s temporary Basquiat exhibit. Take the Metro Line 1 to Les Sablons and simply follow the crowd. It’s a little bit of a walk and if you have not purchased advance tickets, you will be outside for a while so be sure to be prepared with comfortable shoes, water, and an umbrella or scarf, depending on the weather.
Having seen photos of loads of Basquiat paintings did not prepare me for the sheer physical presence and power of his paintings in person. The heavy and three dimensional brushstrokes and vivid colors are jarring and powerful. If it weren’t for the high likelihood of being thrown out, I would have given in to the strong temptation to reach out and touch them back. They have an energy that is palpable and aggressive and combined with enormous scale, they scream at you to see them, not just look at them, but really see them. It was, without a doubt, worth the price of admission, airfare, and the apartment rental!
Exhibits aside, the structure of the Fondation Louis Vuitton is a work of art itself. Designed by Frank Gehry in collaboration with Bernard Arnault of LVHM, it is very reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. An outstanding architectural example from the exterior, it also flaunts incredible views of Paris and of the nearby Bois de Boulogne. The story of it’s journey from idea to reality is chronicled in the museum and an architectural model is housed there as well so that the building can be appreciated in it’s entirety. If weather permits and you would like to make an entire day of it, visit the Acclimation Garden just steps from the museum entrance. With rides, games, a petting zoo and pedal boats, it is kid friendly and could be a good incentive for children that didn’t really want to go to the museum in the first place! There is also the rest of the Bois de Boulogne, the larger park that houses both the museum and the Acclimation Garden. There are trails, natural areas, and planted gardens throughout.
With no permanent collection, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is an ever changing rotation of exhibits, so be sure to check the Foundation’s calendar and see what is upcoming. I highly, highly, highly recommend buying timed tickets in advance. The lines are long and if it is hot, cold, or raining, the wait can be painful. If you plan to have lunch there, Le Frank is a bit pricier than the neighboring restaurants, but both the atmosphere and the menu are a destination unto themselves. Be sure, again, to reserve ahead.
Next on my list was the Atelier Brancusi, a smaller, more intimate and soft spoken permanent exhibit found behind the imposing Pompidou Centre. For all of the well known, big name modern and comtemporary artists drawing the masses found at Pompidou, the Atelier Brancusi, (officially a part of the larger Pompidou Centre, but housed in a tiny building in the courtyard “out back,”) is a peaceful respite from the throngs. His workshop is replicated in the right half of the building and his studio in the left. He had a very precise vision of how his works were to be displayed and the atelier is said to be true to this. There are benches that make a perfect place for a midday snack while admiring his sculptures and objects. Their soft neutral contours, sinuous lines, and perfect scale are a soothing juxtaposition to the Basquiat exhibit and to the more vivid displays at Pompidou. It’s like visiting the most chic apartment imaginable, but you can’t sit on the furniture…because basically the furniture are all incredible sculptures!
It was on to the Giacometti exhibit at the Musee Maillol the following day, another very popular exhibit for which I’d advise purchasing tickets in advance. The Musee Maillol is not one that most people visit on their first trip to Paris. It is located at 61 rue de Grenelle in the 7th arrondisement. The museum buildings were constructed as a convent in 1750 behind the Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, an incredible fountain built between 1739 and 1745 by the sculptor Edme Bouchardon. It became a residential building in 1789 and almost 200 years later, Dina Vierny, one of Maillol’s models and muse, purchased an apartment there. She eventually acquired the entire building and began turning it into a museum to house Maillol’s work. Follow the link to see an interview with her in her later years. Although Maillol began his career painting and creating tapestries, he found his niche in sculpture and this namesake museum pays tribute to these works. The Giacometti exhibit is the perfect complement to the permanent collection. His works are displayed chronologically and show the progression of his style and the influence of his predecessors and contemporaries. The exhibit is extended until February 3rd, but if you miss it, there is the Giacometti Foundation at 5 rue Victor Schoelcher in the 14th arrondisement. It is only open by appointment, however, so be sure to book online. Also, please note the Musee Maillol will be temporarily closed until March 30, 2019.
I look forward to telling you about more treasures in Paris and elsewhere in my upcoming posts. Feel free to contact me with any questions and I will do my best to answer them or direct you to someone that can. Please use the links throughout this post for more information. Enjoy!