I catch my favorite train from Auvers transferring in Valmondois which travels through the beautiful countryside into what I imagine is the riot ravaged section of North Paris into Gare du Nord. I bravely decide to take the metro to the Musee D’Orsay despite the fact that I know all metros are under terrorist threat. Somehow, the Paris metro is so much more civilized than the New York subway I let down my guard and forget to be afraid. My fellow passengers and I survive.
I get off at St. Germain and prompty walk in the wrong direction. When I reach the Odeon, I realize my mistake and backtrack, passing a gazillion gorgeous food stores. At least I know if I get lost I can follow the trail of my drool back the way I came. I resist the urge to enter and continue past the fashion boutiques (also drool inducing) and down the Rue Jacob past the small galleries until I reach the Musee. The line is virtually non-existant and I’m inside in a flash.
It’s a beautiful museum, a converted railway station, with art instead of bums. I head straight for the impressionists, trying not to notice the art lovers critiquing my hair.
The first room alone is more impressive than MOMA and the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam by a long shot. And it keeps going. Rooms of impressionist paintings, many of which are scenes that looks strikingly familiar, maybe because so many were painted in the Val d’Oise. Pissarro, Corot, Sisley, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh are well represented. There are numeous paintings done in Auvers, I notice with pride (as if I had something to do with it). Views of Pontoise, Argentueil, Sannois, the Oise, Chaponval are as plentiful as if I were at the Chateau Auvers looking down on the valley. And not all that different.
I like Renoir more than I remember and Monet less (although I’m still fascinated by his series of the views of the cathedral in changing light). I still think Pisarro is underrated and feel my rage rising at the injustice of it.
But I’m immediately soothed by the room of Van Goghs. He may have been a douche and a drama queen, but man, I love his paintings. They’re brighter and more striking than I remember. I can’t keep my eyes off the picture of that quack Dr. Gachet and can almost understand why that Japanese industrialist who bought one of the two portraits Van Gogh painted of him wanted to be buried with it. Dr. Gachet looks depressed. His hair is very red. I wonder he went to the same hair salon in town that I did.
I can’t help noticing the scarcity of English speaking people here in the Museum. Where are they? Are they boycotting France because of our refusal to take part in the Iraq war? Whatever it is, I’m grateful, as the museum is uncrowded and pleasant.
Until I go to the ladies room and realize, this must be where the Americans have been hiding. The line here is longer than the line into the museum and virtually everyone in line is an American. Maybe we have smaller bladders than the French?
Only one of the two stalls has toilet paper and rather than take toilet paper from another stall when it’s empty, the women in line choose to wait for the stall with toilet paper to become available, which doubles their wait time. When a woman leaves that stall, I cut ahead to take some toilet paper and go into the free one. The women act as though I’ve just invented the paper clip or something. I begin to understand why the US is no longer a center of innovation any more.
Once I’ve finished my business I take a look at a pre-impressionist work of art—Paris itself. The view from the D’Orsay balcony is spectacular, even when it’s overcast.
By now it’s almost 3:00 and time to wander over to the Place de Madeline and Opera, which I haven’t seen since I floated by in the 80’s high on painkillers from a tooth infection (I have searched vainly for whatever that painkiller was ever since). I walk through the Tuilleries and up the Rue de Fauborg Honore to the Opera. It’s as impressive to me now without narcotics as it was while under the influence.
Then, I don’t know what possesses me, maybe a narcotic flashback, I walk to the Boulevard Haussman to Galleries Lafayette. I recommend this neighborhood to anyone homesick for New York. Here English is more prevalent than French. And I experience the pushing and shoving I’ve so missed. I hate it and rush out. Until I remember that the food hall is supposed to be an epicurian oasis.
This place makes Eli’s in New York (the best and most overpriced food emporium in NYC) look like Safeway, except the prices of course, which are high, but still comparatively reasonable. The options are infinitely more mindboggling than Eli’s (which only boggled my mind with the prices). There are all sorts of prepared foods to take out, or eat at little counters set up at each section. There’s the Italian deli section, the Petrossean section, the tapas section, the dim sum section, the meze section (the take out meze platters are so beautiful, I consider them to be art on par with a Van Gogh), the Indian section, the oyster section. There’s also fresh produce, meat, seafood, bakery, candy and grocery sections that includes everything I’ve ever craved and some things I’ve never imagined to crave but will start immediately.
My budget allows me a smoked salmon on blini sandwich for 4 Euros which is tasty, but leaves me longing for more. I take one last slow, tortured lap and decide I better leave before I find my credit card buried in my bag and create a deficit at the dim sum counter that’s bigger than the US debt to China.
The train ride back to Auvers is uneventful. I watch the countryside go by now with the eyes of an artist—the slashes of green, gold, and red of the passing fields as vibrant as the tabouli salad at galleries Lafayette.
Once again, I feel a kinship with Van Gogh, despite my desire not to. I stop at the grocery store on the way home and linger over the wine section since absinthe is no longer legal. I decide against buying a bottle, since like Van Gogh, I’m short on cash. What would Van Gogh do? It seems I have two choices. One involves cutting, the other painting.
I head back home to paint my hair.
Filed under: 1, Auvers sur Oise, Impressionists, tourism, transportation, travel, Vincent Van Gogh Tagged: | art, Auvers sur Oise, degas, Dr. Gachet, fine dining, France, france on a budget, gourmet foods, Life in France, Musee D'orsay, Paris, renoir, Val D'Oise