Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A week in Paris

Not much knitting got done last week, other than on the plane. R had to go to Paris for a conference, and in an act of wifely devotion I agreed to go with him. We were celebrating a BIG anniversary, and our friends D & L were also celebrating theirs, so the four of us went together, and while R was staring at blackboards the rest of us enjoyed walking (hobbling?) around Paris and visiting museum after museum.

Since I have been there quite a few times, it was fun to seek out places I hadn't visited before (in addition to -- not instead of -- pilgrimages to the Musée d'Orsay and the Louvre). On Monday, our actual anniversary, the four of us went to visit the enormous and fascinating Père Lachaise Cemetery, where "everybody who is anybody" in French art, literature, music, and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries was buried.

On the same day, after a walking tour through the Marais section, we visited the new Mémorial de la Shoah,
a beautiful memorial to the 76,000 Jews who were deported to concentration camps in 1942-44, of whom only 2500 survived. The memorial includes a wall of names of all 76,000, and has a huge collection of photographs, documents, and videos, everything beautifully displayed but also catalogued for serious Holocaust research. Our visit was particularly poignant because we found the names of L's father and other relatives on the wall.

The next day we dubbed "Gray Tuesday." All our attempts to absorb a little culture went awry. On our short list of "must sees" for this trip was Giverny, the home of Claude Monet, about 40 miles outside Paris. We planned to take the train from Paris and then a bus from the Vernon train station to Giverny. After taking the Metro (with two changes) to Gare St. Lazare, we discovered that the train schedule was extremely limited, with only two return trains, one too early and one too late. So back to the drawing boards. (Of course, because we weren't planning to visit museums that day, we didn't have a guidebook with us.)

First we headed down the Champs Elysées to the Petit Palais, one of the many Paris museums that has recently reopened after a long renovation period. There was a wonderful exhibit of the 3000 Years of the Art of Peru, beautifully displayed, but the building itself is just as interesting as the exhibits. Then off to the newly re-opened Musée de l'Orangerie at the end of the Tuileries.... Whoops! Closed on Tuesdays! After lunch in a nice little café we walked over the the Musée D'art Décoratif, one of D's favorites... Whoops! Closed Tuesdays! Sore of foot and weary of heart, we decided to spring for a cab back to the Left Bank to visit the Cluny Museum, not far from the hotel and home to the fabulous 15th century "Lady with a Unicorn" series of tapestries. Awful traffic, lunatic driver, but we got there safely. Whoops! Closed Tuesday! (We did eventually get to the Cluny later in the week and were not disappointed.) As we dragged ourselves back to the hotel we found a nice little jewelry store where D and I consoled ourselves.

Then back to the hotel, which was one of the small hotels on the Left Bank with a great location, adequate rooms, and a tiny elevator. The three of us got into the elevator, pushed the button, and up it went... for about 10 seconds... and then it came to a dead stop about 4 feet up. There we were, between floors, and nothing we did would convince it to start again. After we rang the alarm a few times, Mademoiselle behind the desk managed to put down her phone and come to help. She forced open the outer door, we pushed upen the inner door, and then by sitting on the floor we were able to jump down to safety. They had to call the "fixer" (who took 24 hours to fix it) and in the meantime we had to climb up and down 5 flights of stairs. Aaaargh!

The rest if the week was much better. We were really lucky with the weather, which was sufficiently overcast to keep it from being hot and we had no rain except for a few sprinkles. There were some real highlights: dinner with L's cousins at their home outside Paris; visits to the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay; and our eventual visit to l'Orangerie, with its incredible Monet Water Lilies panoramic paintings totally occupying the oval walls of two large galleries. It almost made up for missing the garden at Giverny where they were painted! Almost as an afterthought we went downstairs to see the "small collection of Impressionists" donated by the widow of art dealer Paul Guillaume... over 100 works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Monet, Modigliani, Derain, Soutine, and Picasso. What a gem of a museum!

Another obscure highlight was the Manufactures de Gobelins, whose history consists of 500 years of tapestries. By chance we discovered that one can still visit the ateliers of weavers who still weave magnificent tapestries on huge looms using historical techniques. One can no longer commission a piece – even assuming one could afford it – since the factory is now owned by the French government and the works created there are exclusively for government buildings or for gifts to foreign governments. They no longer make any of the old designs but only modern designs copied from paintings commissioned for that purpose. The entire tour was in French, so I missed a lot, but it was still amazing to watch people at their looms. The weavers have to serve a four year apprenticeship, and it takes several years to complete each piece, so these people have to be incredibly patient and immune to tedium!

And then the pièce de la resistance... the Opera! I've always wanted to see the old Garnier Opera House and never got there, even to tour the inside of the building. This time we made reservations two months in advance and got tickets for a performance of Gluck's Iphenigenia en Taurus. The production was a bit strange (why do they insist on setting old operas in modern times???) but the setting was extraordinary, as were the performances.



What an incredible week! Art, music, great food, good friends... What more could one want??? Well, too bad R had to work for most of the week. Otherwise (if we discount Gray Tuesday) it would have been perfect.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Perfection is overrated

This time last week I was in a tizzy because of a dropped stitch in my fircone lace shawl. It didn't show up in its initial incarnation as a lumpy blob before blocking:

but then, stretched out for blocking, there it was:

After fiddling around with a tapestry needle and a spare piece of yarn I managed to anchor the stitch so that it wouldn't unravel. It hardly even shows... though to me it might as well have little red lights blinking all around it. The truth is that very few peope would notice it -- the lacy design and the slightly fuzzy texture of the alpaca do a pretty good job of concealing the imperfection. Even my weaver friend Maxine could't find it until I pointed it out to her. And why am I so fixated on perfection anyway???

I found a wonderful quote from Isaac Babel (How it Was Done in Odessa) on the subject:
If you need my life you may have it, but all make mistakes, God included. A terrible mistake has been made, Aunt Pesya. But wasn't it a mistake on the part of God to settle Jews in Russia, for them to be tormented worse than in Hell? How would it hurt if the Jews lived in Switzerland, where they would be surrounded by first-class lakes, mountain air, and nothing but Frenchies? All make mistakes, God not excepted.

Friday, June 09, 2006

How could this have happened??

Disaster has struck. I just finished my third lace scarf, washed it, set it out to block and discovered -- about 4 inches from the beginning -- a dropped stitch!!!! I don't know how this could have happened, since on the next row I had the right number of stitches. Maybe it was one of the times a few stitches slipped off the needle and, in picking them back up, I missed the actual stitch and picked up something else instead. Aaaaargh!!!!! Once it dries I'll try to mend it. Guess I won't be giving this one as a gift!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Reluctant Penguin discovers Librivox!

Literature to knit by, and all free! Librivox.com provides books, poems, and short stories that are read by volunteers. I first discovered it via the CraftLit podcast, wherein a former English teacher discusses knitting, spinning, and assorted other crafts and introduces a few chapters of an audiobook every week. She is currently doing one of my all-time favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, nicely read by Annie Coleman via Librivox. Now that I'm caught up, I may just skip ahead directly to the Librivox version so I don't have to wait a week for the next installment!

So here's the scoop on Librivox. Anyone can volunteer to read... all it requires is a little time, a microphone, and free recording software. The literature is all in the public domain, meaning that it is mostly pre-1923, but that covers a lot of classic literature. The catalog is expanding all the time. The Reluctant Penguin got her feet wet with a few poems from
Fables for the Frivolous by Guy Wetmore Carryl and Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (still in progress) and then went on to read several chapters of Candide by Voltaire (still in progress). Some projects are collaborative, with different people reading one or several chapters of a book, and others are solo, with a single individual reading an entire book.

Knitting is much more interesting while listening to a good book, especially this time of year when everything on TV seems to be a rerun.