Musée National du Moyen Age and The Orangery

June 16, 2010

We made a late start this morning.  We slept in until ten thirty and had tea and croissants in the room.  Two days ago we bought a little electric kettle because the hotel doesn’t have one.  Technically were not supposed to have food or drink in the room but have been successful at sneaking in food so far.

We walked to the Musée National du Moyen Age – Thermes de Cluny.  It was a museum of mideval art set in a ruined Roman bath.  I was very impressed by it.  They had a good exhibit of stained glass windows and some incredible tapestries.  My favorite was the Lady and the Unicorn.  It had a unicorn in it like the Unicorn tapestry in the Cloisters in New York but the themes were very different.  It could just as well have been called The Lady with the Unicorn and the Lion since a lion features just as prominently in the tapestries.

There were six tapestries in the first five a lady and sometimes her lady in waiting stand about with a lion and a unicorn.  Each tapestry symbolizes one of the five senses.  There is sixth tapestry that most people say symbolizes a sixth sense of spirituality.  The other possibility is that the first five tapestries show the temptation of the five senses and the sixth shows the lady resisting the pleasures of the flesh.  Unicorns can symbolize either purity, virginity and Christ or they can mean sexuality and carnal pleasure.  Oddly enough they can often mean both.  The middle ages were an interesting time.

The tapestry contained a lot of animals and flowers including a lot of rabbits and birds.  I spotted a heron.  There were quiet a few other more minor tapestries in the museum, which were almost equally impressive although never part of such a large or complete set.  Several of the pieces they had belonged to sets that were broken up over several museums.

The museum dedicated two of its larger rooms to showing how the museum was literately on top of a set of ruined roman baths.  The room was lit entirely by the huge windows at the top with no artificial lighting.  There was not much of the original baths left although they had some statues and a nearly complete little animal fresco.  In a poorly lit corner I found a damaged statue I could not identify, it was some sort of beast or monster but without a face.  There was no sign to say what it was.  It unnerved Anna and she would not look at it closer.  I took a few pictures to see if I could make it out better in the light of the cameras flash but the bumps and bone like edges unnerved me too and I backed away from it.  Right across in the same corner in a pit was an open roman sarcophagus.  There was only one small sign to identify it and it was hard to see in the dim light of the room.  I followed Anna back into the well-lit body of the museum.

We moved on to see a truly impressive number of statues of Mary and Baby Jesus.  You would think that in so many hundred years of carving the same thing some one would at least alter the composition a little, but no one was pretty much like the other.

We had lunch in the garden outside and watched a small pack of energetic children run around the fountain.  Their parents watched them with the tired but amused expressions.  I couldn’t blame children who’d just spent hours in a museum for needing to let off a little steam.

As we were walking away we noticed a large group of police in riot gear gathering in vehicles.  No one seemed particularly worried about them so we decided we did not need to be either.  I’ve noticed a lot of police dressed in riot gear or armed over the last few days although I’ve not seen any reason for it.  As we were walking back this afternoon a large convoy of police vans trundled past with their lights and sirens blaring.  Either there’s been trouble in the suburbs or maybe their doing practice runs.  Two days ago when we were walking towards the Louvre we noticed a lot of police standing around and found out the reason was that a local politician was giving a speech and they were patrolling the area, or at least standing around looking bored.  Regardless Paris has a much heavier police presence then London.  Anna thinks there may be a conference going on somewhere.

We walked to some comic book shops and looked for one that had direct American imports.  We found one and Anna bought a few of her favorite series.  We walked along the river up past the Louvre to the Orangery, a gallery that holds most of the Impressionists in Paris.  Although we arrived around four thirty we didn’t get inside until nearly five thirty when it was about to close.

The reason for the wait was not because the building was overly full, or that security took very long to go through but that two of their cash registers had broken and they could not sell the tickets fast enough.  We finally got in a about thirteen minutes before closing and hurried through the galleries.  We saw Matisse’s Water Lilies and a few Renoir’s.  There were a few early Picassos before he got into cubism and a few other French painters I did not know of before.  There was a visiting exhibit of an artist I forget the name of.

Seeing art is a great hurry is not ideal but it was better the losing the chance to see it at all.  I really wish I had had more time to see the Water Lilies.  Being in the room with them felt like stepping into a peaceful afternoon beside a pond.  One look at them and the world seems to slow and calm.  They were the most serene paintings I have ever seen and every wall of two rooms were covered by them.  Seeing just one in the Tate Modern did not compare.

The walk home was long and tiring the problem with seeing Paris by foot is that your feet hurt a lot at the end of the day.  The upside is that we have seen a lot of Paris, or at least the central part where we have been staying and seeing Tourist sights.  Tomorrow we will go to Versailles and on our last day in Paris we will go to the big cemetery in the Northern part of the city.

We bought our dinner at the Carre Four, a local supermarket, and carried it back to the hotel.  Dinner, breakfast and lunch for tomorrow cost less in the grocers then our entire dinner last night.  We will picnic in Versailles tomorrow if we sort out the trains properly and get there.

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About Policy Chick

I'm a first year Global Policies Masters student at the Lyndon B. Johnson LBJ School of Public Affairs
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