Posted on 29 December 2005

There’s something about the French – a perfectionism – that makes me feel inadequate. My nails are often chipped and dirty. My hair is messy. I seldom wear makeup. And everyone calls me Madame. I know it is a courtesy but it makes me feel old.

Rob is wiser. He took advantage of the perfectionism. He went to the most famous barber in the city to have his beard trimmed. The dapper little man sculptured his facial hair with a straight razor. It is perfect, every hair cut exactly the same length, close to his face. I am impressed. I would love to have my hair cut very French, very sassy, but I am shy and a little at a loss about where to go for the transformation as the last time I did this I paid too much and was disappointed. (Every time I see a hair salon, I peek in the window and observe.)

But most of time I forget that I am not perfectly coiffured and manicured: I just have to look up a building – say, the National Assembly – or down a long treed avenue and I feel a shiver of pleasure. This is why I’m here.

On the metro, at a cafe, on a park bench, wherever I stop to breathe – I read snippets of Maisel and so far he hasn’t said anything new but I like his writing and focus on Paris. I followed one of his suggestions yesterday to the D’Orsay. Get there early, he said. Check out the main floor. Look at this Manet and write some. Go to the top, admire a Van Gogh and Gauguin – no matter that they didn’t like each other – and write some more. Obviously Maisel didn’t visit Christmas holiday week. When I arrived, the lineup went round the building so I went to a nearby cafe, thinking that once the museum opened, the crowd would disappear. No such luck. When I returned, the line was longer. And even though snow was falling, my feet and hands cold, and I have little patience for queues, I decided to wait.

Forty minutes later, I was inside. I wandered down some steps to a statue of Sappho, figure reclining, eyes downcast – the poet in angst, through a room of Millets – country folk in fields, to the Courbets. I like this painter, one of the first Realists. One painting, “Origin of the World,” a woman, minus head, legs spread, continues to intrigue me for many reasons. (It is so unlike all his other work.)

I did dutifully go to the top floor but there were two many people gawking at the Van Goghs and Gauguins, so I ignored these mad men, and found myself in a less crowded room with Renoir. I love his painting of poppies – so light and lovely. But I find his work, for the most part, a little too sweet. But this time, I noticed, in several lesser known works, that the flesh of many of his female figures was unnaturally red… but the jostling and rudeness of the crowd was getting to me so I left to meet Gill.

I have decided to wait till next week when the children are back in school and most of the damn tourists have left (hopefully)
to visit other museums.

The last few days Gill and I have walked so many streets. She is showing me all the little boutiques she thinks I’ll like – good research for the store and my next buying trip. And Rob and Brendan take off on their own, exploring different areas. Although all our feet are tired, we are stimulated and happy except we’re getting poor quick – this is an outrageously expensive city to visit.

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