Paris Diaries: Truth, Love, and Asshattery
After musing for a bit by the water, I finally made it to the D'orsay just in time to realize that every other tourist in Paris was already on line there. Still the D'orsay had just opened, and it was only minutes before I was inside-dry and warm.

One would think, considering how much time I've spent in the D'orsay and how much I've written about it, that I wouldn't have anything else to write, but indeed that museum is the gift that keeps on giving. When I arrived, there was Ferdinand Hodler exhibit. I had never really considered his work, but I wandered through the exhibit and was particularly interested by two of his paintings-L'amour and Regards dans l'eternite. In L'amour-the lovers, with their entwined limbs, lie in front of an ocean. Their foreheads touch and the man's protective pose obscures the woman's face. Despite their nudity, the painting wasn't erotic to me, but breathtaking in its intimacy. I stood looking at it, knowing that I had enjoyed moments like that. The quiet shared unity, my head turned towards his neck, able to smell his skin and hair, skin naked-feeling both the breeze and the sun simultanesouly. To be that exposed and still feel safe.

Regards L'Eternite was provocative to me because of its obscurity. An old man is in a wood shop. By the lower left corner is a very small coffin. The juxtaposition reveals the reversal of the natural order at work. An old man, near death, has made or is making a coffin for a child, who should be beginning life, but who has died. Furthermore, there is the absence of narrative. Is the old man a wood worker? Was it his grandson? Or is it merely that a death of this kind would provoke thoughts on mortality regardless of one's relation, if at all, to the dead child? I stood and pondered this stark painting for quite some time while most people pushed past me to see some of the more famous works.

Manet's Olympia has always intrigued me-the youth of this girl naked, but instead of a sweet, blushing virgin, we find her unabashed, challenging the viewer's voyeurism with her direct gaze. Her fearlessness and confidence especially in what most would like to think a frail and helpless creature captivates me. Unfortunately, this time there was a group of Asian tourists having their picture taken in front of this painting. It was such a large group that they had taken over most of the room, and their efforts were as disorganized as they were selfish-making me annoyed at having to wait so long to actually look at the painting as opposed to stand with my back to it.

Those of you who have read my previous entries about the D'orsay and even some about the Louvre know I have long chronicled the more ridiculous tourist behaviors and comments in museums. I've never understood the compulsion to have one's picture taken in front of a famous work of art. Sure if it's a work that means a lot to you or you're doing some funny pose, I get it. But if you stand there, stone faced, looking at the camera-what exactly is the point? To prove you were there? Wouldn't a ticket stub do the same? Some times, I admit, the strange juxtaposition of these photos is amusing like the newlywed couple that wanted me to photograph them in front of Michaelangelo's A Slave Dying. Most times, like the woman who wanted her photo taken with a particular Renoir and was giving her husband such an intense death stare as he set up the camera that I'm surprise that the man didn't die on the spot, I find it annoying and odd. What will her friends and children think when they see that photo? Certainly not that their friend enjoys being in the presence of a Renoir. And even so, if having a picture taking is that upseting-would you be better served by using that time to enjoy contemplating the work itself?

I've often wondered it is about museums that invites such asshattery. Is there some sort of chemical trigger? And how has museum asshattery changed over time? There should be some sort of historical survey because as sad as it is to say, I would love to read how Victorians were asshats in museums and how they differ from contemporary museum asshat practices. I'm sure there is a PhD or seven in that for some young enterprising soul.

Of course, behavior is only one thing-what people say in museums-erroneously thinking that no one is listening. There were the college students who, on my previous trip, were fascinated by the frames rather than the paintings themselves. This time it was two girls who interrupted my reveries by La Femme Piquee Par un Serpent, a favorite of mine since it was modeled on Apollonie Sabatier AKA La Presidente, famed demi-mondaine, while alledgely in the throes of an orgasm. The statue caused such a scandal that the artist later added a snake (for which the statue is now named) to "disguise" the blatantly sexual nature of the pose. I was contemplating the statue when one girl walking by with her friend gave the statue a casual glance. "She has really nice toes," she commented to her friend. "Yeah," he friend agreed, "like finger toes." "Her toes" the first one continued "are even nicer than Layla's toes." They giggled and kept walking. "Nice toes?" I thought. "This woman was once beloved by famed poet Charles Baudelaire. Invitations to her Sunday salons were the most sought after in all of Paris and entertained she the best and brightest of her time AND THE ONLY THING YOU SEE IS NICE TOES?"

But at least they actually looked, no matter how casually, at the art, unlike another museum goer who was so interested in taking pictures that he wasn't even looking at his camera as he snapped picture after picture, but already turning towards his next target. What is the point of that? To not even look at the painting long enough to take the picture. Can you really get some enjoyment from the digital picture you took of a painting that you didn't even bother to look at? Still, he was better than the fashion and hearing impaired American (of course) in a black t-shirt, blue sweatpants, brown timberland boots-lumbering through the museum, not even noticing as he plowed through people, to dully stare at some of the paintings while death metal blared from his ipod's earbuds.

After three hours, I could no longer stand the rampant asshattery and went downstairs to say good-bye to my girl, La Jeune Tarentine. This statue never loses its hold over me. As much as I admire the artistry of Rodin and Camille Claudel, no statue means more to me than this work. This time I contemplated her hand-open on her hip. It is the position of this hand that shows the viewer that the model is awake-is conscious. That the model allowed herself to be captured in such a state of sensual vulnerability makes the statue even more compelling, but it also adds a layer to artifice. You are looking at piece of marble carved to look like a reclining woman who appears to be asleep, but is actually conscious. The illusion is two fold-on the part of the model and the material-all of these elements collaborating to create this single work. I'm always in awe of marble statues, but this one in particular. How can an artist take a stone and make it so seemingly human, so alive, that I want to touch her hand just to assure myself that she is indeed stone? How can an artist even have the vision to look at a slab of rock and think such a work is possible? I simply can't imagine, but I'm glad there are those who can. With her, I would have never come to Paris.

As I looked at her I realized that by the next day I would be measuring my trip in hours, not days. I would leave soon, but she would last-my marble girl-long after I am gone and even the asshats who walk by her without so much as bothering to look-not even they can destroy her enduring power and beauty.

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