A photo art walk in Paris with Barbey, Halsman, and Dali

If you intend to linger in art galleries when you visit Paris, go in winter.

The cold weather quickens your pace from one gallery to another and when you arrive, there are no line-ups outside and no crowds inside. I’d discovered this on the first half of my visit when I’d done an art walk to the Picasso, Modern Art, and Grand Palais galleries.

For the second half of my visit, my goal was to seek out photography. I had read in The Eye of Photography that there were a number of shows, so I added the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Jeu de Paume, and the Centre Pompidou museums to my must-visit list.

And along the way I also happened to stumble upon a forbidden performance at the Louvre, to dissect a dead fish on the Left Bank, and to meet my maker in Montmartre.

I didn’t have to go far to find art in the streets.

Poster in front of Cite International des Arts reads: Paris Stay Strong.
A poster in front of Cite International des Arts speaks to the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France.

Bruno Barbey at Maison Européenne de la Photographie

At the European gallery of photography, a modest entry fee gave me access to six photographers on four floors of gallery space in a restored heritage building.

Exterior of the Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, France.
The Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, France. (2012 photo by Mbzt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
The images of Morocco by Daoud Aoulad-Syad and Leila Alaoui* were strikingly different; the former shot by a film director on-site in black-and-white and the latter shot in a mobile studio in colour.

Daoud Aouland-Syad at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Daoud Aouland-Syad at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, France

* As I write this post, I am very sad to say that Alaoui has been killed January 19, 2016 by terrorists while she was on assignment for Amnesty International.

18 portraits of Moroccons in eloborate, traditional dress.
Screen capture of the portrait series by Leila Alaoui called The Moroccans, from her site leilaalaoui.com. The series recently exhibited at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, France.

On another floor of the gallery, six-foot-high images by Massimo Berruti showed how the gruelling search for water dominates life in Gaza, the Middle East.

Massimo Berruti at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Massimo Berruti’s image of children fetching water in a destroyed Gaza home, on display at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris, France.

But the Maison show that captivated me the most was Passages, an exhibition of images by photojournalist Bruno Barbey. He seems to have a knack for being in a place when a global political event is about to explode.

The show included 55 years of his work including assignments from LIFE magazine, as well as travel images from repeat visits to Poland, Korea, Spain, Portugal, India, Brazil, and Morocco.

Brazil by Bruno Barbey at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Brazil boys playing, by Bruno Barbey at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, France.

A particular image he shot in Morocco really stunned me—the subject matter, the composition, the colours, the patterns, the light, the moment. It was perfect.

Bruno Barbeys s Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes, 1985.
Bruno Barbey’s “Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes” 1985.

My next stop was near the Louvre, so I stopped at a café for a tartine jambon serrano and sat out a sudden, sunny hail shower. When it stopped, I passed the museum’s famous pyramid with no intention of going in.

Instead I short-cut through an adjoining courtyard and caught strains of recorded violin music. I kept walking and, tucked under an arch, discovered two string students performing the gorgeous music live. While they played for coins, they kept glancing furtively at the gates. On a break, they told me their performance there was interdit—forbidden…(Video, 0:41)

Philippe Halsman at Jeu de Paume

In the show Étonnez-Moi! (Astonish Me!) at the Jeu de Paume, I learned that Philipe Halsman also shot covers for LIFE magazine—but his subject matter was very, very different. He photographed celebrities.

Life magazine portraits by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
LIFE magazine cover portraits by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris, France.

In fact, it was Halsman who was given the assignment to shoot a group of young starlets in 1949. One of them, the blonde in the front row, caught his eye…

Starlets including young Marilyn Monroe 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
Starlets including young Marilyn Monroe 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France

He and Marilyn become friends and she even allowed him to photograph her in her apartment. I was amazed by this image of Marilyn Monroe lifting weights in her home to stay in shape. I’d never seen that side of her before.

Marilyn Monroe lying on bench press with free weights.
Marilyn Monroe, circa 1950, working out in her apartment, photographed by Philippe Halsman.

Living and photographing in New York from the 1930s to the 1970s, Halsman had a deep interest in art, science, and psychology. He also had some interesting friends with whom he collaborated, most notably Salvador Dali. This exhibit showed the contact sheets for this famous photo shoot:

Photography of Dali with cat and water in Dali Atomicus
Photography of Dali with cat and water in Dali Atomicus.

Halsman also staged elaborate special effects for photo shoots such as this image of writer Jean Cocteau.

Jean Cocteau 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
Jean Cocteau 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery in Paris, France.

The next day, I met fellow writer Hazel Manuel on the Left Bank for lunch and a catch-up. We sat at the suitably bookish Les Editeurs café and I ordered the bar entière grillé—whole grilled bass.

Basically, it was a dead fish on a plate.

Bar entiere bass Les Editeurs Paris France
Bar entiere bass Les Editeurs Paris France

But thanks to some practice eating seafood living in both Vancouver, Canada and Goa, India, I was able to dissect, eat, and enjoy the specimen.

Both Hazel and I have travelled to and written about India, and so after lunch Hazel kindly gave me a signed copy of her novel about India, Kanyakumari.

Author Hazel Manuel signs Kanyakumari at Les Editeurs Paris France
Author Hazel Manuel signs Kanyakumari at Les Editeurs Paris France

20th century art at Centre Pompidou

I’d saved the most modern of the modern art galleries for last: the Centre Pompidou.

Centre Pompidou Paris France
The Centre Pompidou gallery in Paris, France. (Image source: museums.wanderbat.com)

I didn’t have much time, so I went straight to the Collections Modernes 1905-1965. Year by year and room by room, the fifth floor carefully explained and demonstrated the history of modern art to me. It was exhausting and fantastic.

I stood before Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Man Ray, the Constructivists, the Dada-ists, the Bauhaus school—all of it. All in one place.

Sacré-Coeur church at Montmartre

My final culture stop in Paris was the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur—the grand church at the top of the Montmartre hill.

I walked back to my hotel, taking care to investigate interesting-looking sideroads.

Montmartre street Paris France
A Montmartre street in Paris, France.

On the way, I passed the immense Place de la République square, still charged with the emotions and mementos of the November 13, 2015 bomb attacks. Skateboarders and cyclists weaved around clumps of people staring down at the mementos or staring up at the statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic. She holds aloft an olive branch.

Place de la Republique after November 2015 attacks
Place de la Republique after November 2015 attacks.

My time in Paris had come to an end.

I’d snacked on fast-food and cans of beer, but I had truly feasted on art. It felt like a sustaining, winter meal—the kind that stays in your belly and soul and keeps you alive for weeks and months afterwards.

I didn’t see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I did catch a glimpse of her in the adjoining gift shop when I went searching for a toilet. She told me it was okay—I’d done a pretty good job of supporting the arts in Paris without her.

And then she smiled.


An art walk in Paris with Picasso, Warhol, and Vuitton

I was standing at the counter of the City of Paris tourism office, staring at a brochure that described how a 2, 4, or 6-day Museum Pass would give me unlimited access to Paris’s museums with no queuing.

I’d enjoyed rural French culture in the tiny village of Lauzun for the past two months, and now I was ready for some big-city art.

“Which museums emphasize modern or contemporary art?” I asked the agent as I pulled out my wallet. She took her pink highlighter pen and underlined two from a list of 60. The venues I had short-listed were not on the list.

I thanked her and put my wallet away. I didn’t want musty, old-man art. I wanted art that rocked the world.

I made a decision: while in Paris, I would seek and enjoy art and design à la carte. I’d skip the Louvre and the Orsay, and proceed directly to the 20th century: the Musée Picasso, Musée d’Art Moderne, Grand Palais, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Jeu de Paume, and the Centre Pompidou.

On the way I might stroll by the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, the Seine River, and the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. I would munch a crèpe here and sip a glass of wine there to sustain me. But here in Paris, it would be art that feeds me.

¡Picasso! at the Picasso Museum

The current exhibition, ¡Picasso! presented two floors of the artist’s work from the early 1900s to his death in 1973. I learned how dabbling with 3-dimensional materials translated into fractured pieces that would be called “Cubism.” I lingered in the museum for hours and was truly moved by the colours, shapes, and range of work.

Click an image to view the photos with comments in a gallery.

Next on my list was the Musée d’Art Moderne. It was on the other side of town near the Tour Eiffel. I caught a city bus west, ate a ham-and-cheese crepe under the tower, then strolled along the Seine river to my next art stop.

Warhol and The School of Paris at the Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art was staging Unlimited, an exhibition of more than 200 pieces by Andy Warhol, but as a North American, I felt like I’d seen enough of Warhol’s soup cans, thanks to various shows mounted by my own city’s Vancouver Art Gallery.

Warhol entry at Musee D'Art Moderne Paris France
Warhol entry at Musee D’Art Moderne Paris France

Instead, I proceeded to the gallery’s free exhibition of its permanent collection. It was amazing to wander from room to room and see the evolution of modern art from Post-Impressionism to yes, the Pop Art of Warhol.

Raoul Dufy 30 Years or The Rose Life 1931 at Musee D'Art Moderne Paris France
“Fauvist” artist Raoul Dufy’s 30 Years or The Rose Life, 1931 at Musee D’Art Moderne.

I also learned about the “School of Paris.” Art critics of 1923 used the term to describe the foreign artists who settled in the Montmartre and Montparnasse areas of Paris. The School encompassed all the movements of the time—Cubism, Fauvism, Realism, Primitivism, and Expressionism.

Art class at at Musee D'Art Moderne Paris France
Art class at at Musee D’Art Moderne Paris France

On my way out, I stepped around a fresh batch of painters setting up their easels next to the masters’. I snuck a few peeks to see how a student might copy or interprete an original work.

Back on the Seine, I stopped to photograph workers fitting new cobblestones into the river’s famous banks. I was lucky enough to experience (but not get taken in by) Paris’s famous gold ring scam.

Seine promenade stones with Eiffel Tower Paris France
Seine promenade stones with Eiffel Tower Paris France

“Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton” at Grand Palais

Because I know nothing about Louis Vuitton luggage—besides that Bangkok street vendors sell it and wealthy, well-dressed ladies buy it—I thought, why not check out this French company’s free retrospective at the gorgeous Grand Palais?

Louis Vuitton exhibit entry at Grand Palais in Paris France
Louis Vuitton exhibit entry at Grand Palais in Paris France

The exhibition was organized into themed rooms according to the type of travel and use: expeditions, yachting, automobile, aviation, and trains.

This show was about the history of travel luggage, not fashion. It was beautifully-mounted and fascinating. I had to laugh when I saw how early automobilers—like today’s early-adopter bicyclists—were expected to be “protected” in head-to-toe gear in order to participate in this new, novel mode of travel.

Click an image to view the photos with comments in a gallery.

I’d read in The Eye of Photography that there were a number of photography shows going on in the city, so I vowed to do a photo art walk of Paris next.

What I love about Bordeaux (it’s not about the wine)

There is just one reason I wanted to visit the city of Bordeaux, and it has nothing to do with wine.

In 2007, UNESCO designated the entire downtown area of Bordeaux, France a World Heritage Site. That is, the United Nations deemed the city’s architecture to be of such outstanding value to humanity—right up there with the Egyptian pyramids and the site of Pompeii—that it listed Bordeaux in order to protect it.

A few years ago I researched and wrote about my own country’s World Heritage Sites for Destination Canada, the Government of Canada’s tourism marketing agency. I loved the assignment and I became enamored with the simple idea of preserving art and nature that is of global significance.

Art and nature is what I crave when I travel, and it’s why I usually choose to travel slowly—on foot, by bicycle, by bus, and by train. I arrived in Bordeaux on a train, and as much as I wanted to explore Bordeaux by bicycle, I immediately realized that this World Heritage Site was too rich a canvas for me to take in on two speedy wheels.

Instead, I walked and drifted and discovered.

I learned that my Bordeaux seemed an elegant and ancient city wearing an energetic and fresh layer on the outside; and a hip and relaxed layer underneath. In appearance and behaviour, it was for the people, not the tourism industry.

Unlike Pompeii and the pyramids, Bordeaux has intricate cathedrals, modern-art galleries, fresh food, famous wine, and bike lanes. Not bad for a World Heritage Site.

If you see a lot of bicycles in the photographs, it’s because there are a lot of people cycling in Bordeaux. The bike lane network is extensive and there is a bike share system.

Bordeaux’s buildings, churches, and plazas

Bordeaux’s laneways

Bordeaux’s museums, galleries, and spaces

Bordeaux’s cafés

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Goodbye Lauzun, hello Bordeaux

After two months in rural Lauzun, the time had come to trade in my little Cardbordeaux for the big Bordeaux.

“How do you feel about leaving Lauzun?” asked a new friend at a spontaneous Kir Royal gathering at the Café des Sports. I considered my answer carefully. I’d been warmly welcomed by my hosts Sue and Ian, their friends and neighbours, and the staff at the local businesses. I’d cycled all around the countryside, visited hidden villages, dined royally, and drunk more wine than I have ever drunk in my life—good, French wine.

“I think I’m ready to balance my rural French experience with an urban one,” I answered. “I’m going to take the train to Bordeaux’s UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site to stay there for three nights, and then I’ll catch the bus to Paris for a week.” I paused. “I think that’ll do it. Then it’s back to Vancouver.”

Ian drove me to the train station in Bergerac and the sky emptied rain. I felt sad to leave, but I have to admit—I was excited. The train passed through too many famous vineyards to count, but it happened to pause in the village of Saint-Émilion.

St-Emilion vineyards from train Bordeaux France
Aboard the Bergerac-to-Bordeaux train, stopped at Saint Emilion station.

Apparently, they make good wine in Saint-Émilion and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I managed to catch a snazzy tram from the Bordeaux Gare St-Jean station to just blocks from home for the next three nights, the Hotel de L’Opera. The hotel room was perfect: modest, clean, renovated, secure, and centrally located opposite the Grand Theatre, a bike share rack, and a waaaay more expensive hotel. All for an off-season deal price of €50 a night.

Grand Theatre VCub bike share Bordeaux France2
View of Bordeaux’s Grand Theatre and VCub bike share rack from a third floor room in the Hotel de L’Opera.

Stepping out into the square and onto rue Sainte-Catherine in the late afternoon, the atmosphere was electrifying.

Rue St-Catherine Bordeaux France
Rue Saint Catherine is the spine of Bordeaux’s UNESCO World Heritage Site quarter. It’s also a pedestrian-and-bikes-only, 1.25-kilometre shopping lane.

I realized that—having been in deep-rural Lauzun for the past two months—I was a bit culture shocked.

I made my way to a funky café called Spok, ordered a glass of red wine and a hot beef sandwich, and examined my maps and tourist materials.

Spok cafe in Bordeaux France
Spok cafe in Bordeaux, France. An elegantly-dressed lady contemplatively sips a can of Coke, while I contemplate arts and adventures.

Okay, I said to myself: For the next two days I am going to go with the flow, keep calm, wander, and let Bordeaux discover me.

But first, I need a bottle of good Bordeaux wine to take back to my hotel room.

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Martin Walker’s Sarlat village in the Dordogne

I am in love with Bruno, Chief of Police.

He’s a character in Martin Walker’s series of detective novels set in Dordogne, France, and my Lauzun neighbour Mimi recommended the book when we cycled to Sérignac-Péboudou a few weeks ago. She was kind enough to lend me the first title of the series, saying it was an easy-to-read detective story set in a southwestern French village very similar to our own, real-life Lauzun.

Martin Walker is a renowned journalist and non-fiction writer, but I guess he relaxes by writing about the rural culture that surrounds him in the Dordogne. In addition to writing stories that describe the everyday scenes, people, and events in the fictional village of St-Denis (where the Dordogne and Vézère rivers meet), Walker also includes gastronomic minutiae about the cuisine—the wine, cheese, game, truffles, pastries, and more.

In fact, National Geographic Traveller named the first book in the series, Bruno, Chief of Police, its Book of the Month selection. Reviewer Don George wrote,

…Walker weaves these threads into a flowing Peter Mayle-meets-Alexander McCall Smith narrative that illuminates the unresolved undercurrents and alluring rites and riches of rural France. In the end, Bruno proves to be not simply a perspicacious detective, but an engaging guide to the delights of Dordogne.

I was halfway through the third book, Black Diamond, when my hosts Ian and Sue suggested we take a day-trip to the village of Sarlat-la-Canéda. Ian is a professional photographer, and he had guessed that the cover image on Black Diamond was a street market in Sarlat—a picturesque, medieval village about 210 kilometres east of Bordeaux.

It was a great excuse for Ian, his wife Susan, neighbour Maggie, and myself to pile into Ian’s boxy yellow Kangoo and drive two hours north to the Dordogne river to see for ourselves…

black diamond martin walker book cover Sarlat france
Cover image of Martin Walker’s book, Black Diamond.

Ian was right. Compare the image on the book cover (above) and a photo I took when we arrived at the Place de la Liberté in Sarlat (below):

The same street scene in the village of Sarlat, France.
The same street scene, the Place de la Liberté, in the village of Sarlat, France.

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Soupy Tuesdays bring together friends and fowl

What do pigeons and turkeys have in common? You eat them.

Last month, Lauzun neighbours George and Ros were kind enough to stage my hosts Sue and Ian’s Canadian thanksgiving in France in their back yard. Sue and Ian served turkey and once they’d left for Morocco, I was blessed with ten very meaty turkey bones.

I made a big batch of turkey-and-leek soup and asked George and Ros if they’d be willing to host me if I brought some soup over? The next Tuesday we shared soup, wine, and stories as they filled me in on the village’s perks, quirks, and history.

George and Ros of Lauzun, France.
George and Ros of Lauzun, France.

Since then, we’ve met every week for “Soupy Tuesday” and I learn a little more each time. For example, George and Ros told me that families kept pigeons in pigeonniers (dovecotes) adjoining their houses. They kept them for their meat and eggs, and they’d blend the pigeon dung with straw to insulate the walls.

George and Ros live on a tiny, pebbled laneway called a venelle. Across the venelle another neighbour, Ursula, is renovating a property that had a bicycle shop at the front and a pigeonnier at the back. George offered to take me there for a tour.

Pigeonnier structure with a dove roosting tower.
On the venelle, George says hello to Martin, who is renovating Ursula’s pigeonnier into a studio. Note the roosting tower where pigeons would fly in and out. Lauzun, France.

Inside the pigeonnier, another neighbour, Martin, was helping Ursula by finishing the windows and walls. He’d added a new frame within the existing timbers and stabilized the walls with new blocks. He grinned that he would not be using the dung-and-straw mixture to insulate the walls of the soon-to-be studio.

Martin frames in a window to the pigeonnier.
Martin frames in a window to a pigeonnier in Lauzun, France.
Building blocks stabilize a centuries' old pigeonnier
Building blocks stabilize a centuries’ old pigeonnier in Lauzun, France.

Ursula joined us and guided us to the kitchen where the original sink was outdoors so it could drain into the adjoining carreyrou (walkway).

Outdoor household sink in Lauzun, France.
Outdoor household sink in Lauzun, France.

Inside, she showed us a second-floor bedroom that was in its original condition, and then a bedroom that had been renovated.

George and I left Ursula and Martin to their work, and George explained the difference between a venelle and the carreyrou in this Medieval village.

“The venelle is wide enough to pull a wagon through, and the carreyrou is just wide enough to walk along.”

George and I said our good-byes and I agreed to meet him and Ros again next Tuesday. I had a couple of squash to get creative with, so I figured I’d make a golden, curried soup as a remedy to the cool, December evening.

George in walking in narrow carreyrouin Lauzun, France.
George walks in the narrow carreyrou between two homes in Lauzun, France.

St-Maurice, an 11th-century sod village

I’ve discovered Lauzun’s thousand-year-old grassy knoll.

Just a kilometre or two north of the village, I walk along a plowed field and see a hand-painted wooden sign with a yellow footprint on it. I follow the sign to a flat-topped hillock that seems at odds with the rolling, agricultural terrain around it.

The foot path continues around the base of the knoll and a faded sign tells me it’s the former site of a feudal sod village called Saint-Maurice.

France Lauzun st-maurice le motte feodale
A feudal sod village called Saint-Maurice, circa 11th century, near Lauzun, France.

In the 11th century (between the years 1000 and 1100 AD) villagers, farmers, and artisans protected this hilltop home with a security system that included a timber wall and a watch tower.

I walk the leafy, soggy path up to the hill’s flat clearing. I pass a pile of stacked wood and walk in a circle around the hilltop. It feels private and primeval up here.

France Lauzun st-maurice le motte feodale trees
The tiny village of Saint-Maurice thrived on this hilltop in the Middle Ages. Lauzun, France.

I’m reminded of the 1,300-year-old city of Caracol in Belize, Central America.

At the beginning of the eighth century, Caracol was a bustling Mayan civilization of about 150,000 people, 30,000 structures and 88 square kilometres. But when I wrote about cycling to Caracol for a newspaper in 2006, it was mostly covered by tropical forest. All that was left was howler monkeys and ghosts.

I admire the ancient timbers and structures in villages such as Lauzun, but what I truly admire is the living land. On every walk and cycle ride I take, the fields and orchards and woods continue to nourish and warm the people. And in sites such as St-Maurice and Caracol, it lives beyond the people.

I linger in this odd, raised clearing and—as I did in Caracol—I imagine a busy settlement banging and clanking around me. Then the Lauzun village church bells ring twelve, signaling that it’s time to walk back for a coffee and piece of apple tarte.