Over Under Paris: Exploration of an Art Riddled City – Line One
Art reflects life. Life reflects art. No better example of this can be seen than here in France. Everywhere you look there is art and history, intimately intertwined, it is hard to find one without the other. In my in depth discovery of line one of the Paris metro stations I found it especially true. Walking the beautiful streets of Paris I learned about the past, contemporary and art.
Art as Modern Age: La Défense
Walking out of La Défense you feel like you were transported to another city. Instead of the usual charming architecture that defines Paris, you are faced with modern highrises and glass paneled structures. The contrast of the modernist style with the gothic charm I had come so familiar with seen in the 19th century buildings was unsettling. I felt like I was in Chicago not Europe (minus the noise and constant stream of cars), it was all a little eerie. Similar, but slightly off enough to make one feel unease. Like looking at a distorted image.
An arc mirroring that of the renowned Arc de Triomphe stood tall as the landmark of the area. This stop had various interesting art sculptures everywhere: with an egg shaped building, a colorful abstract piece seeming to be made from clay, a black metal fence like structure created in water adjacent shapes, and my personal favorite, the Thumb.
A giant display of a bronzed thumb was positioned erect. No title, or plaque, we were left puzzled by its meaning or purpose, but it did make for a good story.
The modern buildings and art were an interesting beginning to our line. Located in the business sector of Paris, on the outskirts, it does make you envision a bit of what Paris could be like if it were not preserved. You cherish it more for existing outside the norm of what a bustling city should appear like.
Art as Victory: Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
When war is won, victory is celebrated. The Arc de Triomphe is a representation of this victory. Made by Napoleon It has become a national symbol of France. Second only to the eiffel tower, the image of this massive piece of limestone instantly mentally takes you to Paris city center. From the top you can view the entirety of Paris.
Located at the summit of the Champs-Élysées the arc was created to emulate the victory arcs made by ancient Romans. Begun by Napoleon in 1806, it was completed by French King Louis Phillipe in 1836. When Napoleon died his body was carried through it as a show of his military power and savvy.
When I first viewed this landmark I was genuinely shocked. I had just seen the eiffel tower, the quintessential Paris attraction and loved it. Though smaller than I had imagined it to be, the uniqueness of it alongside its peaceful park surrounding it (and my own personal built up excitement) made seeing the Eiffel Tower an instant core memory for me.
The Arc de Triomphe was the complete opposite for me, but in the best way. I had very little expectations or excitement to see it in real life. I had seen the pictures people posted in front of it and honestly thought it a silly thing to get excited for, thinking ‘It’s only an archway’. But once I set eyes on it for the first time I was blown away. The sheer size of it is enormous, much larger than I had imagined. With gorgeous intricate details and statue work along all sides. Located at the top of a high fashion and very busy lane, in the center of one of the most terrifying roundabouts I’d ever seen, it was anything but peaceful, instead the hustle and bustle of a true city.
An art piece dedicated to war, listed within its inner walls are the names of all French Victories and Generals. Along the outer you can see depictions of Nike, Greek goddess of victory. May her grace shine on us all.
Art as Fashion: George V
As you ascend the stairs up from George V station you are instantly met with luxury. The Louis Vuitton store is just outside it. The largest Louis Vuitton store in the world, it is five stories of all one of the biggest (and French) names in fashion has to offer.
Paris is known as a Fashion capital. Due not only to its citizens having great style (which is true, I am obsessed) but because it is the birth place to some of the most prestigious designers in high fashion (Chanel, Dior, Cartier, and Yves Saint Laurent to name a few) and host to THE Paris fashion week.
It’s not only luxury along this lane. Adias and Levi’s also have a storefront on the Champs-Élysées. Any brand wanting any stake in fashion makes sure to be placed along this street. The look is worth more than any profit made from sales, a necessity.
Fashion is art. A designer is a painter, the clothes their masterpiece, with you and me the very willing art collectors.
Art as Nature: Tuileries
In the midst of this city lies a green oasis. Not uncommon through Paris is pockets of greenery – a reprieve from the paved roads and concrete buildings. These gardens stand as a quiet amid the chaos city life has to offer.
The Tuileries is one such garden. It was originally created for the Palais de Tuileries in 1564 by Catherine de Medici; they were redesigned by Louis XIV’s famous gardener in 1664.
Now it is still a beautiful park. A great place to bring your family, partner, friends, or a solo trip to enjoy some nature alone.
Art as Art: Lourve Rivoli
The Lourve is arguably the most famous museum in the world. Housed here in humble Paris the building is anything but. Formerly a palace home to past French Monarchs, the Lourve holds the official title of being the largest museum in the world. Corridor after corridor of some of the most acclaimed art hangs on the walls.
Visiting was slightly overwhelming. With sections ranging from ancient Egypt to Rome you don’t know where to start. Guided by my professor we began in the Greek corridor. Seeing statues that are 2,000 years old. We ascended the massive staircase, greeted by Nike at the top. After that, we went to giant room after giant room of art. We saw the flatter 2 dimensional medieval art, usually of holy depictions; to that of the renaissance, more complex works of art fully showing the depth of the human body, still holy depictions – but not always with religious intent. Here I met a new favorite artist, Caravaggio with his painting “Death of the Virgin”. Its dark colors and sorrow was haunting and very different from the normal depictions of Mary that are usually ethereal. Of course, we also got a look at the infamous Mona Lisa.
Though not at this stop, a short walk through the Tuileries gardens and across the Seine lies my personal favorite, Musee D’orsay.
Musee D’orsay is another Paris art museum. Famous for its exhibits of Impressionist and Post-impressionist art from the greats such as Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Manet. Though a fraction of the size of the Lourve, this draw is actually an advantage. A more intimate feel is provided for the visitor.
The museum is an old train station (the French love to reuse buildings). From the top of the entrance stairs you see a room of statues. As you walk through them, to your sides doorways give way to rooms of hanging paintings. The privacy given within the rooms makes it a more personal experience compared to the Lourve. A Standout painting from here is “Dante and Virgil” by Bougurereau.
Then you ascend up to the top, the fifth floor. Here is where the gems lie, impressionist and post impressionist paintings everywhere. Seeing my first Monet’s in real life was breathtaking. Experiencing this with my classmate Jake (a huge Monet fan himself) made it all the more exciting, squeaking with glee from room to room. The best moment for me was by far the Van Gogh room. I’ve always loved art, following many contemporary artists for years. More recently I have gotten into more “classically renowned” artists, one of which is Van Gogh. My phone case and lock screen is his art. Even though I knew what type of museum it was, and that there were Monets there, it didn’t cross my mind that they would have Van Gogh pieces. Actually seeing a “starry night” (though not the famous, famous one) was such a cool experience.
Both great museums, they are amazing examples of what France has to offer as far as classical historic art.
Art as Religion: Saint Paul
Religion can be as beautiful as any art piece. For centuries it was the focus of the masterminds in painting such as Leonardo Da vinci and Raphael. A Parisian church is just faith manifested in art. Saint Paul’s Cathedral, located at the stop of the same name, is no exception. A part of the historic Marais quarter, elegant and grand, no detail was spared in the making of this holy space.
Religion plays an interesting role in French history. A Catholic country with heavy influences from the Pope and those in power of the faith, the relationship they maintained with the monarch made them an unstoppable force. A huge catalyst for the French Revolution was the people being fed up with the abuse of said power.
This power was obviously bad for the subjects and partitioners of the church, but it made those in religious power go all out in portraying stories of the Bible – exalting God’s beauty with the beauty of the church.
Tall ceilings with large gothic pillars line the main long body of the church. Stained glass scenes of the bible are along the windows. Large paintings of more scenes depicted in gorgeous renaissance style are also hung on the walls.
Though I am not Catholic, I am religious. For me entering these churches is serene. There is a quiet hush, for those in prayer. It is cool, both dark and light. A place to be respected, regardless of intentions of those that visit.
Art as Liberty: Bastille
Standing tall in the center of a square lies a pillar of freedom. With a concrete base, metal column, and golden adornment, the Bastille monument is large and grand.
The monument stands as a place holder of the spot that once held the Bastille, a prison and armory. The storming of the Bastille is an important moment during the French Revolution. It is a historic instance in which the people fought back against the establishment.
Now, July 14 (the day of the storming), is celebrated annually as a national holiday. Bastille day is like the French 4th of July. Large crowds come out to watch fireworks and bask in French Patriotism. My own experience of it was magical. Surrounded by my classmates, now great friends, looking up at the Eiffel Tower as the most insane firework show I had ever seen goes on. At points it looked like pixie dust was raining down on us. In that moment we all felt French, filled with joy.
Art as Mobility: Gare de Lyon
a station for fast transit this stop shows as an example of what public transportation has to offer. The art here is a lot more abstract, more conceptual. That is, the art in mobility. Paris has an amazing metro, train, tram and bus system. Intricate and all over the city, I have never had an easier time getting around carless.
Living in Miami, an extremely car dependent city with no car makes you appreciate this so much more. For me, there is a beauty in it.
A web of underground lines under the city, the metro acts like a skeleton. Connected each part to the next, below the skin, out of sight, but so essential.
Learning how to use the metro has also brought me confidence. Managing to get from one place to the solo without any hiccups is self assuring. My greatest feat was doing this with no signal and only a destination in mind. Mission successfully accomplished.
The only drawback is the relatively early closing times. Late Paris nights can be cut short due to this. Though the metro and RER may close, buses are always available. And if all else, make the late night later and stay out until the trains start going again.
Visiting and living in Paris for a month was a dream come true. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to get to explore this gorgeous city. A month full of lifelong memories.