Museum Brochures and Crying with Voltaire

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Thursday, the fourth (and last full) day I was in town.

I think today was probably my favorite of the trip, in no small part because the weather was intensely excellent. (The day didn’t even involve any human remains!)

I started the morning off at the Orsay, which I wound up going to mostly as an afterthought to the Louvre yesterday. I don’t care about Impressionist art that much (yes, I am going to hell), at least not when marketed as such–and that’s what the Orsay’s writeups draw attention to. They need to hire new brochure people and reframe it as what it is: a fabulously well-curated collection of really accessibly famous art in a beautiful building.

As stated before, I know very little about art history, but I literally had a moment of, “Oh, wait, those Tahitian paintings that I had to do a presentation on in French class? Those are all here!” There were Degas and a whole room of Toulousse-Lautrec and the original of a Van Gough print my grandmother had on her wall for years, and that was just two random rooms that I stepped into. In addition, there was a great cross-continent look at art nouveau (my favorite!) and the modernist response to it.

I left the Louvre feeling like I had gotten some mildly unpleasant obligation over with. I left the Orsay feeling refreshed. This might have something to do with the Orsay’s beautiful, well-lit building, which used to be a train station. There’s a lot of clock faces and marble and a lot less of the painted Baroque ceilings of glowering allegories of eternity going on. Also, there was basically no one in the museum.

Basically, A+ to the Orsay. Unexpected success!

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Awkward Moments in Cross-Cultural Communication

At lunch today, I realized that the maid who works in my host family’s house does not speak French. This is somewhat embarrassing, given that I’ve been living here for a week.

We had been getting along just fine with gestures and avoided eye contact. It turns out “no, that doesn’t go there,” and “I find it funny that you cannot ever light the stove,” are messages that can be conveyed totally without words. I had assumed that the rest of the time she was just busy or shy.

But no, it turns out that she has avoided talking to me because we do not share a mutually intelligible language. Whoops.
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I Want to Be Able to Joke

I think my host family finds me to be slightly dour (and more than a little simple). Most people who encounter me in English-speaking contexts do not, I hope, share this impression. In English, I’m funny (usually) and loud (sometimes) and a presence to be reckoned with.
But in French (and it’s even more difficult cousin, Frolof), I’m unable to joke. I’m also usually unable to understand other people’s jokes. It’s a crapshoot as to whether I’m able to respond to direct questions, most of the time. About the only thing I’m able to do with any consistency is obey direct orders to go get things out of the kitchen, and even then they have to be set out for me or I’m unable to find them.
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