Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Marabouts and castanets

Another day where chance changed any vague plans I had. Definitely museum weather, so this was the day for the Muséé Jacquemart-André, I thought; but first, as the metro passed through Barbès-Rochechouart, I thought I'd stop off and take a look at the cheap clothing shops and the market under the railway line along Bvd de la Chapelle. Interesting that the patter's very similar to London markets: "Everything's got to go! Last chance!"

The first time I came here, there were several hawkers pushing out fliers for marabouts - this time only one, but one that was advertising here three years ago. Mamadou is still claiming to be a seer, healer and medium with an excellent reputation, offering precise and detailed visions, capable of finding solutions to all your difficulties: love, infidelity, loneliness, impotence, work, business, studies and driving tests. And all on the basis of a photo - consultation by correspondence only. The only thing is, if he or she is so good at this sort of thing, why isn't he or she living the life of Riley in some jetset hideaway? Or maybe he (or she) is.....

Back on the metro, the map shows only one stop beyond the Jacquemart-André to the Grand Palais, only recently reopened since a refit - so why not take a quick look?

This part of Paris is deliberately imposing, remodelled around 1900 with a great deal of self-assertion, as in the gilt and curlicues on the Pont Alexandre III; and it's here that statues of heroes abound - Bolivar and La Fayette eternally waving swords at each other, Churchill, de Gaulle and Clémenceau all striding determinedly in different directions. The great nave of the Grand Palais is currently refitting for the next big event, so there wasn't anything to see except the newly-cleaned outside. You have to wonder exactly what was meant by some of the detailing.

Opposite is the Petit Palais. Not only did it have a café (well, it was lunchtime), but its permanent collections as the city museum of fine arts are free - and rather impressive. This Gallé piece was commissioned by a society lady who features as a minor character in a detective story set in the period that I just happen to be reading at the moment. The focus isn't just on art directly relevant to Paris: there are some impressive examples of art from all periods, though not all rooms were open. Some beautiful religious art, both Western and Orthodox, and some impressive Roman sculptures as well, in a building surprisingly light and elegant for its period and size.

They also had a special exhibition on Flamenco and how it was viewed, both as part of a touristic "Spanishness" but also as it was taken up by the artistic avant-garde of the early 20th century. Lots of interesting pictures, a rather pointless film by Man Ray, but a couple of fascinating early films (from 1894, and from the 1900 exhibition for which the Palais was built) and enthralling examples of dancing from the 1930s. And I only saw it because of a whim.

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