Besides Amelie, I have another favorite movie that takes place in Paris. The time frame is entirely different, La Belle Epoque, Paris and it is based on a novella by Colette. Of course, I am referring to Gigi. If you can forgive the fact that Maurice Chevalier plays the part of a lecherous old man and that he sings far too much, Gigi is a delightful musical romp through art nouveau rich decor and the world of the demi-mondaine. When I was younger, I absolutely adored Leslie Caron because we shared a name and she was a beautiful French actress who I always viewed in films where she played upbeat characters that caused men to fall madly in love with her. She plays the precocious title character of Gigi who is coming of age and starting to understand what her family’s chosen profession of a courtesan actually means right at the time that the sugar baron, Gaston is starting to realize how delightful she truly is. France has this tremendous history of courtesans and “kept women”, even elevating the king’s mistresses to ranks of national title. Kings were expected to have mistresses. Look at what happened to poor Louis XVI, the most chaste king, after all.
Despite my complete lack of relation to anything remotely resembling the life of a courtesan, through the years I latched onto Gigi and its Art Nouveau world. Gigi was expected to be beautiful and charming and to sleep with powerful and rich men who in turn would take care of her (in the words of Gaston – take care of her “beautifully.”). Love was meant to be a business arrangment complete with expensive apartments and negotiated gifts. Of course, it wasn’t meant to last and always had its tragic ends (which became the talk of the town). For a sixteen year old first viewing Gigi as a part of her study of Colette’s short stories in her eleventh grade English class, it all seemed rather relevant.
On Monday, David had to work. Since his work in Paris is what led to my free trip, I couldn’t feel too sad about that. I was on my own to explore the city that day.
I headed over to the Left Bank for a morning stroll in St. Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter, where the Sorbonne is located. My goal was to get to the Musee National du Moyen-Age, formerly known as the Musee de Cluny. It is beautifully situated inside of a medieval mansion which was completed in 1500. The site was purchased by the Abbot of Cluny in 1330 as it was the site of the ruins of Roman Baths built around 200 AD.
On the day that I visited, since it was the national holiday VE day, the museum’s visitors were mostly French families. Consistent with so much of what I know about art during the Middle Ages, the museum mostly contained religious relics and paintings. Of course, I would have liked to have seen more devoted to the Plague that swept through France in the 14th Century, but I guess while a place is facing the death of a third of its population, there is little time for anyone to really pay an artistic tribute to what is killing you. The museum does hold one treasure which I completely adored – The Lady with the Unicorn, a series of six tapestries, which was also given tribute in a story by George Sand. The tapestries are remarkable – the first five each pay tribute to one of the five senses. The sixth tapestry is titled A mon seul desir, and features the lady relenquishing objects which gave her senses such pleasure in the previous tapestries. The tapestries also feature a mischevious little monkey who ends up in chains in Tapestry Five for his antics. The museum also contains a collection of 21 stone heads representing 21 of the Kings of Judah which were carved around 1220 and which were unearthed in an excavation only in 1977.
The Gallery of the Kings is located in the Gallo-Roman bath ruins. Overall, I loved this museum. It lacked the tourists crowds of the other museums that I visited and I love trying to decipher medieval secrets.
After the visit to the museum, I had a difficult choice to make: for a lunch break, would I stop at Les Deux Magots and pay homage to the Lost Generation American writers or the Cafe de Flore, located directly next door which hosted Sartre, de Beauvoir, and the existentialists of the 1950s. It was a tough choice because both groups of persons affected my epistomological and academic development during various points in my life. Since both places were crowded with tourists, I decided to stop at Cafe de Flore, since it had less to do with Americans. After enjoying my requisite cafe Perrier, I was back on the street again, deciding to head up to the Opera Quarter and get a look at the Opera National de Paris.
I took a walk over to La Place de la Madeleine and went inside the Church of La Madeleine, dedicated to Mary Magdalene (which also will be featured in the Da Vinci Code movie I am sure). The church was undergoing some needed restorative and cleaning work, as the exterior of the church seemed rather dirty. The area has some of the most expensive stores and shops and Paris, selling things that were far outside of my limited budget. I walked down the Rue Royale on my way to the Place de La Concorde (where Marie Antoinette was executed) and then suddenly – there it was:
It was Maxim’s, the place to be in Gigi and during La Belle Epoque. Although its luster and mystique have faded in more recent years, its faithfullness to Art Nouveau remains and it almost caused me to break out in the song, “Ah Gigi! While you were trembling on the brink was I out somewhere yonder blinking at a star?” Or “I don’t understand the Parisians! Wasting every single night on romance!” I still love Gigi.
My feet were starting to feel like lead inside of my shoes at that point in time, so I decided to go back to hotel for a break from walking. I met David back at the hotel and he was similarly in tremendous foot pain. We decided that we would stick closer to our hotel for dinner that night and so we ate at a tasty restaurant where I tried and enjoyed foie gras (I still feel a little guilty for enjoying something so tasty and yet so cruel to the little birdies), ate some delicious scallops, and topped it off with some yummy creme brulee. It was an excellent meal. Like a true French meal, the dinner lasted for hours. It was wonderful.