Monday, January 25, 2016

Zee Hearts Museums: Part Deux

This is part two of a two-part entry on less touristy Paris museums. Click here to check out Zee Hearts Museums: Part Un !

**Heads Up** : This entry has a few references to sex in an artistic context, so if that's problematic for ya...don't scroll down!

Musée de Luxembourg
    I've been meaning to visit Musée de Luxembourg for the longest, but every time I head to Jardin de Luxemburg, which is right next to the museum, I'm wearing questionable workout gear and typically not carrying my student ID in the waistband of my yoga pants. One day after class, I went with a few fellow Sciences Pistes to the Musée which is located right next to–wait for it–a mini Angelina! Who the heck knew? It's probably a good thing I didn't know until now that the park I use for jogging also has a mini restaurant famous for chocolat chaud with the consistency and flavor of warm brownie batter (in a good way).

    The museum was featuring an exposition on Fragonard, which I associate with the adorable little perfume boutiques that can be found around Paris. Born in Grasse (where they still make a ton of high-end perfumes) and indeed part of the Fragonard dynasty, Jean-Honoré Fragonard was apparently a bit freaky and liked to capture the rampant libertine sentiment favored by wealthy "gentlemen" of the age in etchings and frothy pastel paintings.

    Although very sexually charged and questionable in terms of the treatment of women-as-objects/the male gaze, I really enjoyed many of his paintings. There were strong notes of leisure, fun and fancy-free in the outdoor pastoral scenes, offset nicely by an undercurrent of dramatic irony, as many of the paintings captured the excesses of the french upperclasses in the days leading up to the Revolution.

Le Verrou: one of Fragonard's most famous paintings...but also pretty rape-y.

    I went to an exposition recently at Musée d'Orsay on prostitution in Paris, so I am less sensitive now to the idea of sex as a thematic driver for art. Both exhibitions did a great job of using the works to serve as a snapshot of a moment in time. As a woman, however, I can't help but wonder if much has changed...

One of the more "progressive"/scandalous pieces: A woman surrounded by books and other educational materials without a man in sight (gasp!), engaging in a little "self-pleasure". 

L'Institut du Monde Arabe
    And last but certainly not least, last night I went to an exhibition at L'Institut of artifacts recovered from the ocean floor off the coast of Egypt where the ancient cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus once stood.  I remember hearing about how archaeologists had found the lost city of Alexandria back in the 90s. My mom used to watch a lot of National Geographic-type shows, and I remember  Zahi Hawass or one of those dudes mentioning how the city had been found, but it would take some time to recover everything. Apparently a frenchman found two other cities also submerged off the coast near Alexandria which had been thought to have been "lost".

A god conquering all of the scary things found in Egypt: crocodiles, scorpions, snakes and mini goats  that have long sharp horns for...goring, I guess?

    Considering the fact that a "catastrophic event" sent these cities to the bottom of the Mediterranean hundreds of years ago, the artifacts on display were incredibly beautiful and in amazing condition. Many of the items recovered really showcased the blending of Greek and Egyptian cultures and mythologies.

Egyptian queen with Greek stylistic characteristics

Egyptian statue dedicated to Hathor, the Aphrodite/Venus of Egypt. Many of the gods in this period represented a blend of Greek and Roman traditions. Basically the Egyptian Venus de Milo. 

This tablet was found face down on the ocean floor, which kept it in almost perfect condition

    The narrative of the exhibition focused on Osiris and the birth of mummification. En bref, Osiris was one of the sons of the god of the sky and the god of the earth. Osiris' brother, Seth, killed him in a jealous rage and scattered the parts errwhere. Osiris' wife, Isis, re-assembled the parts and performed the first mummification ritual and partially brought him back to life...or should I say, brought part of him back to life... his, ahem, penis, which she made love to and brought forth their son, Horus, who vanquished the evil Seth and avenged his father. It was a compelling tale of love, death, hope and rebirth, and served as the frame for the exhibition, which featured many pieces from the cult of Osiris. It's always interesting to see how much ancient cultures and religions borrowed from each other (Cain/Abel, rebirth=Jesus) and the humanity in a lot of the old mythologies is something I think we all can relate to.

Isis in the form of a falcon "on top" of Osiris.

Amon=Egyptian Zeus/Jupiter

   The L'Institut itself is super cool as well. The walls have these little camera-like apertures that control the amount of light allowed in at any given point during the day. There is also a Moroccan restaurant on the 9th floor with a little deck providing an incredible view of the back of Notre Dame. I wasn't able to go out and take a pic, but I definitely plan on going back soon!

   I found out recently that I can use my student ID to also get into CASTLES for free! So keep a lookout for posts about the Châteaux of Chantilly and Fontainebleau soon! Don't miss a post: sign up for email updates (the tiny box thingy on the right)!

Zee Hearts Museums: Part Un

    As I have mentioned a couple of times in this blog, the French state allows EU students younger than 26 to visit most museums fo' freeeee. This bounty also extends to many other museums within the EU (for example, I went to the Prado in Madrid gratis as well). My 26th birthday is a comin' round the corner faster than I'd like, and I'm reticent to see these halcyon days of my youth come to an end.

    To that end, I have been hitting up museums left, right and center, which frankly is what I would do anyway even if I had to shell out b/c I am a nerd. Plus, there are so many great ones here in Paris. I've decided to venture off the gilt-and-marble beaten path a bit and hit up some museums that I haven't visited before. On the list: Musée de Quai Branly, Musée Delacroix, Musée de Luxembourg and L'Institut du Monde Arabe. Gonna do two posts to have enough room for pics :D

Musée de Quai Branly
    The Musée de Quai Branly is a museum which specializes in non-western art. It is situated super close to the Eiffel Tower, and includes a restaurant with superb Eiffel Tower views (didn't try it, but looks like it would be good for getting your parents/a date to take you). On a cold January night, guided by the light of the Tower, I followed the graceful curve of the museum's outer wall until I found the entrance. Behind onyx-dark walls, I entered a garden filled with exotic plants, completely silent except for the rustle of pampas grass in the wind. A few feet ahead I could see colored acrylic rods lit from within situated among the grasses, which cast circles of light on the geometric underbelly of the Museum's architecture. The set-up was superb, and totally gets you hyped for what's to come. I was instantly transported from "Paris-y" Paris to a foreign yet familiar world...the pampas grass made me a little nostalgic and gave me serious #SouthCarolinaOrnamentalGrass vibes.

    The winding continued as I passed the magical fairy garden and up the lit ramp to the entrance of the museum proper. Once inside, visitors are guided up yet another ramp, on which featured art installation by Charles Sandison consisting of a projected "river" made up of the 16,000 or so words representing the names of the peoples and geographic locations represented in the museum.  It was pretty cool.

Traditional dress from the Argentinian Pampas
Feather necklaces from Amazonian tribal communities

Saint Michael costume from Diablada de Oruro dance ritual in Bolivia
Buffalo dance costume worn by Plains Indians

Christian paintings from 8th century Ethiopia

Was being ushered out as I took this pic, so no time to read the placard, but it looks just like a piece of art we have at home from Benin.

I finally know what Wampum are!

    The museum is split up by regions: the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The layout is kinda windy and not really easily navigable if you only have a short period of time for a visit, so plan accordingly. I found that I learned more in a 45 minute visit to Quai Branly than in my last 5 or so visits to other Paris museums combined (no shade intended). Personally, I've found that my education has had a heavily occidental bent, and thus it is up to me to work a little harder to learn about non-US/European cultures. There were a lot of young couples whispering in the obscurity of the dimly lit museum, so if you're trying to seduce a french bae, this would be a good place to take him/her. The museum is celebrating it's 10 year anniversary this year, and in my opinion, it'll be around for a lot longer as well. I give it a sold 9/10...especially at night (adds to the ambiance)!

Musée Delacroix
    This museum is right around the corner from my place (hit me up if you go, and I might join!). The museum is located in the rooms of what was once the residence of the painter Eugène Delacroix. It is small, but definitely worth a gander, especially if you are out and about in Saint Germain des Près. I didn't take any pics, but I don't want to spoil it too much! Delacroix captured an interesting moment in French art history, a time when large quantities of antiquities from classical Greece were being brought to Europe and many young artists were incorporating the idealized bodies and dramatic poses featured in the ancient sculptures into their art.

    The museum is broken up into 2 main locations: Delacroix' chambers, and Delacroix's atelier, which is accessed by going outside and going down a few stairs. There is also a charming garden which I'm sure is going to be beautiful in the summer. They're featuring a few works by Picasso as well to celebrate the museum's 30th anniversary. The selected Picasso works mirror Delacroix's in their shared racines in Greco/Roman art. After you're done, you can totes pop across Place de Furstenburg and grab a chou...I recommend the praline filling :)

Click here for Zee Hearts Museums: Part Deux!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ratatouille Time!

It's winter, which means that solar radiation and the energy and heat it brings are at a minimum, and coldness is at a maximum. Not to whine too much, as this winter has been a mild one (thanks, climate change!), but still...How to remedy the winter blues, you ask? Well, you could drink a lot (ill advised),  take bubble baths (a personal favorite) or eat warm food. Along the lines of the last option, I decided to make some ratatouille. Ratatouille is actually more of a summer dish, as that's when all of the veggies and fruits (looking at you, tomato) in the dish are at peak freshness. But it's warm and it's not choc-full of cheese and cream*, so I decided to make it.

We all know and love the classic Disney film, Ratatouille, which is certainly reason enough for any Remy the mouse fan to try their own hand at making some, but for me, ratatouille has a bit of a sentimental bent as well. After two less–than–ideal homestay experiences during my first sojourn in Paris, on the third attempt I was finally placed with a nice woman who, grace à dieu, respected my dietary restrictions and tried to make me veggie-friendly stuff during the program-mandated weekday dinners we had together. It was during those dinners that I ate large quantities of homemade ratatouille, which was delicious and tasted like love and care.

Anyway, so I made some. It requires a lot of chopping, but is certainly well worth the effort. If you have access to your parents' mandoline (or are a real adult and have your own cooking supplies), this would be an ideal recipe to break it out, and the results will be more uniform and "fancy". As I am oven-less, I looked for a recipe that was stovetop-friendly. The recipe can be found here, and is highly recommended by the interwebz. It is in french, but I can certainly translate if asked (also, I think Chrome can do it for you).

The recipe calls for fresh thyme and laurel, which is sold together in handy little bundles in many stores here in France, but can also be found in any decent U.S. grocery store worth its sel. Other than that, the ingredients are pretty standard: zucchini, eggplant, onion, garlic, tomato, red and green peppers, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

With a teensy sprig of thyme on top!

And there you have it. Mine turned out a little soupy at first, so I cooked off some of the excess water, but you don't want the ingredients to be too mushy, so be careful not to over-cook. It's a great dish and adds some color to a dreary January day. Le Figaro recommends a Costières-de-Nîmes as a wine pairing. Bon appétit!

*A side note on the "cheese and cream" comment: cheese and cream are delicious. I've just decided to cut back for health reasons, which has been one of the more difficult decisions of my life lol.