Saturday, June 19, 2010

Look Who's Come to Visit

le fifre (détail), originally uploaded by nicolas★patte.

When I was a child my family moved from New York City to Los Angeles; at about the same time, the Dodgers made the same move. I was thrilled they had followed me.

Now that we've come back to the Bay Area, I'm thrilled to find that the Musée d'Orsay has also arrived here, although this time I'm not under the impression it has anything to do with me.

The DeYoung Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is exhibiting nearly 100 works from the currently under renovation Musée d'Orsay under the rubric "The Birth of Impressionism". An excellent show, it tracks the move from classical Salon painting to Courbet, Manet and on to Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Degas and others. A second exhibition of some of the Orsay's post-Impressionist masterpieces will open after this one closes.

It was a bit disconcerting to view out of their usual context paintings we had seen many times, but at the same time it allowed us to see new things about the paintings themselves and their juxtapositions with others. And it was great to be able to see some of my favorite Manets up close and personal. Definitely worth seeing.

There's a companion exhibition at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, called 'Impressionist Paris, the City of Light', which we intend to see soon. The Legion of Honor building sits on a headland overlooking the Pacific and was copied from the Palais de la Légion dHonneur in Paris, which currently houses an enormous collection of medals and military honors from all over the world. We know because we ducked in to get out of the rain a few months ago when the line to get into the Orsay, just across the street, was too long.

I love eavesdropping on other viewers. My favorite line at the exhibition was a young man saying to his female companion in front of Bouguereau's 'Birth of Venus', "Oh we have that! No, we don't. This is by a Frenchman. The Botticelli has a tree...this is different."

Well, I'm not sure it's the tree...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sunny Simple Summer

We've had absolutely great weather since our return, sunny and cheerful.  The usual morning and evening fog hasn't appeared, and although last night it was too cool to go out without a jacket, this weather is exactly what we needed after the ridiculously unseasonable weather we've had in Europe this spring.  I expect the summer fog to come rolling in soon, but meanwhile, it's such a pleasure!

The weather isn't the only thing different about our lives at the moment.  For one thing, there's the car.  We don't walk anywhere.  No, that's not exactly true.  It would be more correct to say we walk for exercise, not for transport.  It's more than a mile downhill to get to my shopping street, and that means more than a mile uphill, laden with bags, to get back.  So, although yesterday we drove to the shoreline of the bay to walk along it for about an hour, any errand requires using the car.  This is not such a pleasure, since I'm really lazy and the need to plan exercise makes me do less of it, while the automatic exercise of walking in the city was really good for me and required no determination on my part.  I don't do determination well.

It seems to me that the major difference between our lives in Berkeley and in Paris is simply the difference between an active urban existence and a "laid back" suburban one.  In Paris popping out for a coffee down the street is a matter of minutes: walk down the stairs, out the door, and within 5 minutes you're sitting in a café, watching the world walk by.  Here, the need to get in the car, drive 10 minutes, find a parking space, etc. seems too much trouble, and once you get somewhere, the chances are slim of being somewhere the world is walking by; everyone else is in his car too.  And the coffee isn't as good and is served in a paper cup.

On the other hand, I'm writing this at my desk, in front of windows that look out on a redwood tree and a wall of green plants.  The deck just outside invites me to have that coffee at the table under a sheltering umbrella, and reading a book on the couch allows me to look up occasionally at the hawks circling over the canyon across the street.  Sweet.  For now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Opening Familiar Doors

We seem to have slipped quite comfortably into our previous life.  Living in our own house after nine months away is great, and I've been able to find nearly everything we carefully put away before we left.  Well, maybe not so carefully; at the end we were just shoving boxes and loose items into the locked closet and I was surprised the other day to pull a box of canned goods out from under my shoe rack.  Maybe I shouldn't have bought so much at Trader Joe's this week after all.

We're really thrilled to be back in the house, although it seems very big after our much smaller digs in Paris.  Clearly we don't need this much space for the two of us and we could be quite comfortable in less, arranged well.  We've lived here for decades however and have no immediate plans to change.  I love having a deck and trees and lots of light from all the windows.  It's possible that we could sell it (if housing prices ever go up enough) and live in something smaller for our Berkeley stays, but it will be a while longer before we firm up how we divide, or even IF we divide, the year between here and Paris.

At this point I can't imagine not living in either location, but I'm not anxious to be a proprietaire in Paris, with all the attendant problems of ownership.  On the other hand, I don't want to continue living in other people's apartments, never feeling quite at home. And even if you don't know me, you've probably gathered that I like my own things around me.  Maybe a longterm rental?  That would mean we'd have to sublet for a few months a year, as well as finding renters for the house in Berkeley for the other months.  On verra.

For now, we're spending our time seeing friends and family we've missed.  Our nephew's high school graduation is this week, our great-nephew's first birthday party is next week, my sister is only 20 minutes away, friends are available for coffee, drinks, dinners, side-by-side mani-pedis.  And I don't even miss the markets.  I've already hit the Monterey Market for gorgeous stone fruits twice this week.

The sun is shining and life is good.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back to Berkeley

It rained the afternoon we arrived back in Paris but that did nothing to dampen our pleasure at being back. There's no question that it's home for us, or at least one of our homes. Arriving at our friends' house before she returned home, we were told to pick up the key from her butcher, in the front of the building.  Rue Mouffetard, at least at the market end, is still a little village; the neighbors, residents and merchants, all know each other and look out for each other.  Stepping out of the front door was like stepping into the market street of a village in the south of France, one visited by a lot of tourists, to be sure.

We made phone calls, arranged to see friends who thought they had seen the last of us (no such luck!) and hit the streets.  I wish I could remember all of what we did, but the giddy happiness of being back seemed enough.  I know we saw the Lisette Model photo exhibition at the Jeu de Paume, which we had not had a chance to get to before we left a month before; we had a lovely sunny lunch in the Palais Royal garden and shopped the increasingly chic boutiques under the arcades; we had dinner with friends in St-Germain des Près at "21", a tiny, expensive, but very charming fish restaurant run by Paul Minchielli, who had had an eponymous resto in Paris several years before; before dinner we wandered the galleries of St-Germain for the "Art St-Germain" event, which made clear once again that people gather most where the champagne flows the most freely.

I must admit however that beneath all the pleasure at being back in Paris was the restlessness to be gone; we were marking time until our plane back to San Francisco.  Part of this was living out of suitcases in someone else's guest room after traveling for nearly an entire month, but it appears that nine months might be the limit of our willingness to not be in our own house, among our own things, seeing our own family.

Now that we're back in that Berkeley bosom, we'll see what the limit of our tolerance for being somewhere other than Paris might be.  We've got tickets back in mid-August.