Just over a week ago the Immigrant was in Recife, Brazil, where at five thirty a.m. the sun is so brilliant it gives you an ice-cream headache. Not to be too reductive, but maybe this helps explain why despite hunger poverty and a violent-crime rate to rival downtown Detroit’s, Brazilians have forthright smiles and generous instincts. It’s hard to be depressed and self-absorbed in such bright light.
In Paris these days the sun rises at around eight and sets around five p.m. At least that’s the rumor. There is steady rain punctuated by hard rain. The wind rips umbrellas inside out. The sky is a roiling cauldron of clouds. But you’d better keep your eyes on the dim sidewalk below, if you want to avoid the wet slippery traps cigarette butts and dog poop.
Where to turn for illumination? In these portentous days of Advent, Parisians flock to traditional hivernal sources of light. The movies, definitely. No shortage here, with 139 titles on the billboards. The gazillion bulbs winking in the trees of the Champs-Elysees. Also popular is the pilgrimage to the window displays of the major department stores, aka ‘Les Grands Surfaces’. The holiday vitrines of Printemps, Galeries Lafayette and le Bon Marche’ are a hot cultural event meriting critiques in all the papers. (Check YouTube if you want a gander.)
Locals admire, but locals don’t shell out. The languages trumpeting VAT rebates over the in-store p.a. systems drop a big hint as to who the target shoppers are. Meanwhile, down-to-earth Parisians have their own department store elsewhere, the venerable, thriving, BHV, Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville, where you can buy anything from plumbing supplies to prom dresses, albeit not super haute couture. (Today’s photo is the dramatic apex of my favorite BHV window display.)
Where to take a walk, this time of year? The streets are crowded as cattle chutes, the Bois dank and gloomy. But there is a refuge. A splendidly lit park, warm and dry, where one can walk for miles and miles without once retracing one’s steps. The Louvre. Costs nine euros without a discount, about the same price as a movie. The trick is to avoid anything considered ‘worth the journey.’ Grab a map and choose a series of connected halls dedicated to the dead and not-so-famous where you’re guaranteed to wander nearly alone: Decorative Arts, say, or the billowy landscapes of French 19th century painting. You might discover that David, often put down as a kind of imperial yes-man, was in fact a sharp-eyed portraitist and that he fostered at least two prodigiously gifted female students. You might be saddened to learn that Gericault, having devoted his art to rendering the individual characters of his adored horses both noble and working-class, died from the agonizing consequences of a riding fall. Or be stopped by a case of gold jewelry worn by a girl of the Parisii tribe back in 250 BCE, so fine compared to the crusty stuff sold on the Place Vendome.
Wherever you are, it’s good to get lost.
Regarding the last post, an alert reader noted that Royal and Hollande have four children together, not two. And that the correct spelling is Martine Aubry, not Aubrey.
Also, the Immigrant acknowledges a gross prediction error. Thanks to a last-minute, strange-bedfellows coalition of Royal-haters, it was Aubry, not Royal, who won the election for head of the PS. Not that that’s much of a prize now. Especially with a mouth-foaming Segolene and her ‘Royalistes’ still contesting the result.