Van Gogh At The Musee D’Orsay And Things To Do In Paris

Letter From Paris—What A Treat To Be Living This Life

I arrived in Paris last week and celebrated by walking, my first day in the city, to the Musee d’Orsay to see Olympia, salon 14. On the far wall is Couture’s huge painting of a Roman orgy, another favorite.

I saw both paintings and then went to check out the Van Gogh exhibit, which just opened. It’s called Artaud and Van Gogh. Artaud was psychotic, like Van Gogh probably was, and wrote a book in 1946 claiming that society killed Van Gogh by rejecting his paintings. Artaud’s conclusion requires a stretch, I think, but at least I got to see some 30 Van Gogh paintings I’d never seen before, including several still in private hands. Magnificent.

The weekend before I arrived the transport system here in Paris was free because of smog. However, when I got here Monday the smog had lifted, skies were bright and blue, and that fine weather stuck around all week.

I picked up a Navigo card and charged it on Monday for the week. In April I’ll get a monthly pass. I’m told that on weekends everyone with a two-zone pass, like me, can travel in all five zones. I still have to confirm this benefit. The guy who told me has an annual pass, not a weekly, and is a resident rather than visitor. So it may not hold for me. If it does, though, Vicki and I will plan trips to St. Germain en Laye to see the castle and gardens, to Versailles, and to Ville d’Avray to see the pond Corot painted over and over.

I went back to the Orsay this week with a friend who wanted to see the new Gustave Doré exhibit. Doré was a contemporary of Manet. In addition to painting and sculpture, he did drawings, illustrations, and cartoons. My friend is a graphic artist and wanted to check out the details of Doré’s work.

Doré worked in London part of the time, and the curator showed movies set in the neighborhoods Doré drew, juxtaposed with Doré’s drawings from a hundred years before. Remarkable. The exhibit overall was first class and very accessible. The French seem so good at that.

Over the weekend I walked around the 7th arrondissement, where I’m staying, and the 14th. Then Monday, when my weekly transit pass kicked in, I rode several buses around town to look the neighborhoods over. I find Paris much improved since the last time I was here. Less traffic and more and better buses, perhaps tied to less traffic. Less dog you-know-what. That’s a big one. And cleaner streets in general.

Prices in euro seem about what I expected, in line with inflation, but the exchange rate hurts. When I was last here, years ago, to convert from euros to dollars, I deducted 20%. Now I add 50%, rounding off.

Various business publications have written that they expected the euro to have fallen by now, as the United States raises rates and Europe no. But the euro recently hit new post-crash highs, a bit of a mystery. I think we can safely say, too, that, if the peripheral countries like Spain and Greece leave the euro zone, the euro will become even stronger.

I’m off now to meet a friend here in the 7th. We’re going to drink champagne and then go to a new Vietnamese place for dinner.

What a treat to be here, living this life. I’m pinching myself.

Paul Terhorst

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