The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

June 11, 2009

Paris, Jules Verne, Obama and Us

As I mentioned last time, we began and ended our journey through France in Paris, flying in and out of the Jetsonian Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Visiting Paris is in so many ways like visiting New York City.  There’s a lot to see behind the doors of the cities’ museums and galleries — and we enjoy seeing it — but so much of the magic of both places happens on the sidewalks.  So we spent a lot of our time there — walking the sidewalks or sitting in their sprawling ribbons of cafes watching others do the walking.

 

It’s easy to over-do museums, particularly when you’re somewhere like Paris and almost every great known artist is represented.  Too many tours and eventually you may find yourself passing some of the world’s most stimulating works of art feeling a bit non-plussed.  Ho hum, another Van Gogh.  So we’ve learned to limit our exposure and only bite off small morsels at a time.  This trip we focused on The Picasso Museum, the newly re-opened L’Orangery featuring Monet’s water lilies, and the three big exhibits at the Pompidou — Calder, Kandinsky and Women in Art.  (The exhibition on Men in Art is at the Louvre — it is called, “The Louvre.”)

 

The Pompidou Centre is what it is.  What once seemed shiny and innovative now looks rusty and very much shat upon by arrogant Parisian pigeons.  (The Pompidou Centre was revolutionary when it debuted in 1977, with all the structural and  functional elements exposed rather than hidden behind walls and ceilings and floors, and color-coded as well:  the electrical casings are yellow, the plumbing pipes green, and the heating and air conditioning ducts are blue, for example.  Patrons enter the museum almost midway up the building via a series of clear escalators located on an exterior wall.)  Maybe premonitions of its current state help explain why the French hated the Pompidou so when it was first built. 

 

I entered the exhibition hall as a sort of double shot espresso fan of Kandinsky — liking his early work (especially) all the way into his Bauhaus period — but left feeling more like weak coffee toward the artist.  And though I admit to feeling a bit like a poser even saying this (who am I to criticize the museum’s curator?) I think it all had to do with the redundancy of the selected pieces.  Kandinsky was nothing if not prolific, but the sheer number of the pieces displayed detracted from the impact they had as a whole. 

 

The Calder exhibition was completely opposite.  Selected pieces demonstrated both his tendency toward whimsy (Alexander Calder was the Texas born inventor of the mobile with a fascination for the circus) and his prowess at sculpture of literally monumental proportions.  (His piece installed at the World Trade Center — “Bent Propeller” — you may remember, was destroyed in the attack on 9/11.

~~~~~~~

Two of the highlights of our stays in Paris sort of overlap, despite having taken place on opposite ends of our trip. 

 

Bob and I decided to bite the bullet and celebrate our anniversary in style this year by having a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at the Jules Verne Restaurant atop the Eiffle Tower.  What can I say?  The food wasn’t as good as the view, but the view was as astronomical as the check!  This we did on the 25th of May.  Upon returning for our last weekend in Paris, we noticed on Saturday that one of the streets in the Latin Quarter leading to the Notre Dame was cordoned off and lined with French police.  After considerable multi-lingual eavesdropping we deduced that President Obama (pronounced OH – BA – MA, with equal inflection on each syllable in France) would soon be passing through.  Being above neither gawking nor stalking, we scored ourselves two primo spots on the curb and cheered along with all the French fans as his iron-clad motorcade sped by.  Twice. 

 

The cool part to me though was finding out that the president and first lady would be dining that night at the very same restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary two weeks before.  I wonder if they sat at our table? 

 

What I didn’t know then was that the whole Obama clan would also be visiting the Pompidou on Sunday, the same day as us. 

 

Somehow we missed them in the crowd.

Advertisements

February 5, 2009

Northern Exposure?

I was writing in the beer book today about a place we visited during the Portland expedition on one of our ventures out into the magnificent highs and lows of Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.  Mount Hood Brewery is located just south of Mount Hood and north of Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain (seriously) in a little community called Government Camp.  The commercial part of the community is pretty tiny, consisting of little more than the Ice Axe Grill where the brewery is housed.  As indicated by the multiple layers of snow still visible on the Sunday we visited in June, there may be more money in skiing in Government Camp than there is in beer.  Ski resorts are nestled around the pristine mountains and valleys, hidden from view, as is the Timberland Lodge, a WPA construction that we’ve all seen at least once in the opening scenes of The Shining. 

We parked in a rutted parking lot and hopped over puddles of melty snow to get to the Ice Axe Grill where we would belly up to the bar and begin sampling from the Mount Hood Brewery’s finest. 

As much a part of the beer book as the beer are the people we’ve encountered on our quest.  Looking around the Ice Axe Grill I was pleased to find many of the typical characters one might expect to see on a snowy day in June when you’re almost 6000 feet above sea level.  A sedentary balding guy who seemed to have gathered dust around the perimeter of his mug while he nursed his beer.  A lost looking tattooed girl whose eyes betrayed the innocence of the story she wanted to tell.  A trio of large bearded men dressed in flannel and gathered into a covy — or should I say den?  And us. 

Recalling this today put me in mind of one of my favorite fantasy destinations — Cicely, Alaska.  Home of Joel Fleischman, Holling Vincoeur, Mourice Minnifield and Chris in the Morning.  I’m the kind of person who claims to not watch a lot of television (de rigeur, right?), but will often fall in love with one or two specific series.  Right now it’s True Blood and Weeds; in the past it’s been Boston Legal, West Wing, Six Feet Under, St. Elsewhere and MASH.  I always inevitably fall for shows that are destined to be canceled, too — think Sports Night and Studio 60.  But I never loved a show like I loved Northern Exposure.  The theme song was my ring tone for a while.

I loved the purity of those characters — how they all seemed to know and own themselves and their eccentricities outright.  Mourice knew he was a puffed up, patronizing asshole and he reveled in it.  Maggie O’Connell loved being the bush-pilot bitch that she was.  Joel was prepared to take his particularly Jewish neurosies to the grave.  But mostly, I loved the idea that somewhere up north, if there wasn’t a Santa Claus, then at least there was a place where people lived an honestly thinking life; freed of the harsh boundaries of the suburbs and car pools and the daily commute.  I thought the characters were unique, diverse, intelligent and purposeful.  And, as humans are wont to do, I based all my assumptions about the real Alaska and its inhabitants on the characters in this TV show.  It was a lovely fantasy.

But on August 29th, 2008, that pleasant fantasy was ripped from my head like a scalp full of hair when presidential candidate John McCain approached a lecturn in Dayton, Ohio and announced that  Sarah Louise Heath Palin would join him on the Republican ticket.  For the next two and one half months I was reminded daily that not only is Alaska not the diversity heavy, cerebral haven I had hoped for, but that the residents of said state were thick enough to elect a hollow-headed Caribou Barbie as their governor.

There are a lot of things I will forever hate John McCain for.  Race-baiting and re-raising the Red Scare as he accused Barack Obama of being a Socialist notwithstanding.  But forevermore he will remain the lone individual who tore a big moose-shaped hole in my fantasy world by taking away my dreams of a better place on earth — a place like Cicely, Alaska.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.