Ode to Joy

Is certainly popular at the moment 🙂

Little bears are listening to the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir live recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. In the words of The Globe and Mail, “Every so often, you come across a performance that renders you powerless to resist, that sweeps you away with it, that reminds you of why you fell in love with music in the first place”.

And they are very happy that they don’t have to take France off their travel destination list 🙂 There are so many more walks they have to take!

There are the walks through Napoléon and Josephine’s Paris…

Napoléon Bonaparte: Even when I am gone, I shall remain in people’s minds the star of their rights, my name will be the war cry of their efforts, the motto of their hopes.

Although many people have been shaped by Paris in one way or another, Napoléon Bonaparte is one of a few who can claim to have actually shaped the city itself — quite literally. He had a megalomaniacal obsession with commemorating his numerous military victories with landmarks, which led to the construction of several of the city’s most well-known monuments. It is thanks to him that we have the Arc de Triomphe, the Madeleine, the column at the Place Vendôme and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

Arc de Triomphe, 2014
L’église de la Madeleine, 2005
Place Vendôme, 2005
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, 2007

Then there is the Paris of the French Impressionist painters….

No style of painting conjures up the charm and grace of 19th century Paris more than Impressionism. We can instantly call to mind those colourful views of stylish Parisians relaxing in smoke-filled cafés and cabarets or strolling along the city’s bustling quais, bridges and boulevards. Yet, for all the scenes of the Tuileries gardens, the Bois de Boulogne, and suburban boating parties along the Seine, the Impressionists represented the actual streets of Paris relatively rarely – mainly during the late 1860s through the 1870s and, perhaps most surprisingly, within a fairly limited area of the city. Among hundreds of Impressionists canvases, there are only a small number that depict recognisable Parisian landmarks by Manet, Monet and Renoir, and only one – a view of the Place de la Concorde – by Degas. With few exceptions, these artists set up their easels in just two areas – along the banks of the Seine near the Louvre or in the area around Fare Saint-Lazare in the 8th arrondissement – all but ignoring the entire half of the city on the Left Bank. There are no views of Notre Dame or Arc de Triomphe, and when monuments do appear, they tend to be seen from a distance, symbols of the nation’s history rather than precise records of particular places in the city.

Edgar Degas, Place de la Concorde (1875)
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Place de la Concorde, 2014
Place de la Concorde, 2007
Water Lilies, by Claude Monet (1914-1926, 3 panels) at MoMA

Claude Monet: I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.

With Monet’s Impressionist paintings now a ubiquitous symbol of French artwork, it’s almost impossible to grasp how radical his style appeared to the all-powerful art establishment of his time. Monet faced many years of scorn and derision and was repeatedly rejected from the major annual salon, but he remained true to his artistic beliefs and emerged triumphant in the end.

It wasn’t just the Impressionists that challenged the all-powerful art establishment. When Matisse’s Woman with a Hat was first exhibited at the annual Paris Salon in 1905, people were so outraged by the painting that they clawed at it with their fingernails. Matisse and his fellow painters were dubbed the “Fauves” (wild beasts), and Matisse was, for better or worse, crowned as their ringleader. The public didn’t know it yet, but his painting had just created a seismic shift within the art world. One of the masters of Modernism had just made his first mark.

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat (1905)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Henri Matisse: An artist is an explorer.

Paris is also loaded with literary sights and stories. Over the centuries numerous brilliant writers, French and foreign, have used the City of Light as their setting. In the 1920s the city sparkled as a centre of avant-garde; and post WWII, the literati hung out in St-Germain des Près.

Ernest Hemingway: If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest,” wrote Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, in which he chronicles his life in Paris in detail. In fact, he himself writes in such glowing terms about his time there that one feels utterly transported to that time and place when reading his account. Hemingway arrived in Paris in late 1921 at the age of twenty-two with his wife Hadley. He embraced the city with the same intensity that he did everything else in his life, and soon became the embodiment of 1920s expatriate Paris. The polar opposite of conservative, Prohibition-era America, post–World War I Paris proved an intoxicating elixir for Hemingway, liberating the young writer intellectually and embedding him in an eclectic and stimulating community of expat writers and artists. Early on, he came upon the English-language bookstore Shakespeare & Company, where he met the owner, Sylvia Beach. He later said, “No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.” In no time at all, Beach had taken him under her wing, loaning him money and expanding his intellectual horizons by loading him up with Dostoevsky, Turgenev and D. H. Lawrence. It was at this bookstore that Hemingway first encountered Ezra Pound. He also met Gertrude Stein early on, and soon found himself strolling across the Luxembourg Gardens in the afternoons to visit her. Later, he was meeting up with pals F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce in the cafés of Montparnasse for what often turned into multiple rounds of drinks.

Shakespeare & Company, Paris
Jardin du Luxembourg, 2005

We have Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to thank for the fact that the legendary cathedral is still with us today. Hugo’s novel about Quasimodo and Esmeralda inspired renewed interest in the landmark, which led to its being restored. (In fact, this renovation sparked a new appreciation for Gothic architecture across the country and led to the preservation of many of France’s Gothic buildings.)

Notre Dame de Paris, 2014

Victor Hugo: An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.

Victor Hugo was more than just a writer. He was a poet, a politician, a novelist, a pioneer of the Romantic style, and a self-appointed ambassador for the poor and disenfranchised. He leapt to fame at an early age — earning a royal salary for his poetry by the age of twenty — and throughout his life, he used that power to bring attention to the misfortunes of others. Born in the town of Besançon in 1802, Victor Hugo began writing as a child and was still just a teenager when he received his first accolades from the prestigious Académie Française for two poems he had submitted. By the age of thirty, with the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he’d become one of the country’s most admired writers. Not one to rest on his laurels, he continued to write prolifically, and also ventured into politics. Initially a monarchist, he switched sides, eventually becoming a vocal promoter of human rights and the poor. In fact, when Napoléon III took over the government in a coup d’état, Hugo, having vilified the new leader, went into self-imposed exile for the following twenty years, living in Belgium and the Channel Islands for most of that time. In 1862, while Hugo was still in exile, he published Les Misérables. Hugo’s sprawling novel is an emotional powerhouse, exposing the sordid underbelly of Paris and the struggles of its inhabitants in haunting detail. The city of Paris itself is a central and defining character in his magnum opus. On the day it came out, bookstores were mobbed, and thousands of copies sold out in a single day. His books gave voice to a population that rarely had any, and he became the embodiment of hope for millions. Indelibly shaped by the city he inhabited, Hugo in turn made a significant mark on Paris.

Then there is fashionable Paris! Practically single-handedly, Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s fashion — no small feat for an orphan raised in the French countryside. It is thanks largely to her unwavering confidence and intuitive understanding of the changing times that women are no longer trussed in corsets, hemmed in by petticoats, and pinned down by gargantuan hats. Chanel’s rags-to-riches story is the stuff of fantasy (literally in some cases, as Chanel often reinvented details about her past). Abandoned by her father at age twelve following her mother’s death, a young Gabrielle Chanel (her real name) spent several years in a convent, where she learned to sew. With a combination of personal savvy and hard-headed brio, she became the mistress of a high-society horse breeder, who exposed her to the lifestyle of the upper classes. She finally arrived in Paris in 1909, funded by another suitor, Arthur Capel, who encouraged her — on a lark — to pursue a foray into the hat business. At the time, women were wearing elaborate concoctions that limited their range of movement and required the assistance of maids — both to help affix the hats properly with hat pins, and then to remove them. In her typically clear-eyed way, Chanel concluded that this trend was utterly ridiculous and took it upon herself to set things straight! She bought some straw boaters from the Galeries Lafayette, and embellished each with a ribbon or flower. Done! They were liberating, elegant and revolutionary. Chanel’s business grew when a French actress named Gabrielle Dorziat wore one of Chanel’s hats in a play and it caught the attention of the fashionable women in Paris. This led to Dorziat wearing several of Chanel’s hats in a French fashion magazine, Les Modes, in 1912. Suddenly, the ladies of Paris all wanted a Chanel hat.

Gabrielle Dorziat modelling a Chanel hat, May 1912. Published in Les Modes.
Chanel early designs, 1917

Today we have more famous French fashion designers than you can throw a cherry at 🙂

Louis Vuitton cherry range, 2005
Christian Louboutin Paloma Small Watersnake Cherry Tote Bag, 2017
YSL Ready to Wear 2015 Spring Collection

However, they all suffer from the same oversight. No outfits in bear size!

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