PICASSO AND ME by Armen Pandola
Every vacation starts with a travel day. Nobody likes travel days unless you are a fan of the Marquis De Sade. Travel days are more like work than vacation. You have a strict schedule to adhere to and if you are like me and adhere to the strict schedule, then you discover you are a chump because nobody else seems to care. Planes are late, drivers don't show up - look, just read my last column about my arrival day and you'll get what I mean.
So, always, I plan a special second (or the real first) day of vacation. It's a lesson I learned from Louis Armstrong - yeah, Satchmo. A musician who was lucky enough to play with Satch said that when he would arrive at a gig, he would hear Louie in his dressing room playing a tune that he had never heard Louie play. Everyday, it was a different tune - classical, blues, old songs - and Louie would sound, well, like he always did - great. This musician asked Louie if he was practicing for a new album. No, Louie explained, he did that every day before a concert. First thing he'd do when he picked up his horn would be to play something he knew he liked, some music that stuck in his head. That way, he explained, he would start off his musical day on the right foot.
And that is why I went to the Picasso Museum. This is a museum devoted to the works of one artist and how it came about is interesting. In 1968, Andre Malroux, one of France's great writers, was its Minister for Culture and he proposed a law whereby artists' estates could pay their estate taxes in works of art instead of money. A few years later, when Picasso died, the French government struck a deal with Picasso's estate to acquire hundreds of Picasso's works (Picasso was the world's greatest collector of his own work, keeping hundreds of works from every period of his long career).
Then, again in typical French fashion, it found an old building, Hotel Salé that nobody knew what to do with and violå! One of the greatest museums in the world is created.
Before we walk into the Musee Picasso, let me give you a good piece of advice - buy your ticket in advance, online. If you can't do it, get a smart nephew to do it for you. You'll thank me.
Picasso is considered to be the greatest artist of the 20th century, but all of that is just talk. What makes Picasso a great artist is his incredible ability to find the soul, the unvarnished reality in everything he painted. When he started to paint in his early teens, he was soon world famous, again, 'considered' the finest classical artist since the Renaissance. Take a look at his early work and you'll see why:
But being Picasso meant that you were not interested in doing art the way you were taught. He wanted to do art like it was never done before - a new way of seeing that would create in his audience a new way of looking.
A writer can describe a character by giving his audience her history, where she was born and raised, how she looked now and as she was growing up, what she thought and what she did. So, why should a painter in doing a portrait be stuck with painting exactly how she looks on on particular day of her life and nothing else. And then, only painting one side of her, front or profile. Why not be able to paint like a writer writes - looking at all sides, all times and most importantly, all feelings she invokes. Do that and you get this - not one way of looking, but many ways of looking at a person.
There is a video of Picasso painting on glass in real time - here is a piece of it - please do yourself a favor and watch this, it's amazing.
Picasso had fun painting his pictures, making his sculptures and creating his art. ZHis many mistresses and children are all in there so read a little about him first. If you want, you can get an audio guide for a few bucks. The one book I recommend on his art is Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man by Norman Mailer. It's out of print but you can a used copy for the price of a latte.
Lunch was next on the agenda. I started to walk toward a restaurant I knew on Place des Vosges when I saw a nice looking place and decided to throw the dice again. Les Minimes is a clean well-lighted place with a welcoming air. I surmised it would have good fish dishes (I don't eat mean, poultry or pork) because it is named after France's largest marina for pleasure boats. I was right - the food was excellent.I had the dorade - a small fish with tender white flesh, shimmering silver skin and, when grilled, a rich, succulent, meaty flavor, similar to that of pompano or red snapper. A carafe of Cotes du Rhone and an excellent marbré deux chocolats - a chocolate torte filled with dark chocolate warm sauce and served with vanilla ice cream.
After lunch, I headed to my original destination, the Place des Vosges. The Victor Hugo house and museum is there and I wanted to pay a visit to my old friend who gave me so many hours of pleasure reading about Jean Valjean and his adopted daughter, Cosette. Alas, it was closed for construction. I wasn't surprised. When I first went to it in the 1980s, it was a little down on its heels, as was the Place des Vosges. Now, the Marais district and especially the Place des Vosges is the ritzy place to be other than the Ritz, itself.
So I headed to a church I hadn't been to in Paris - St. Paul St. Louis, 7 passage Saint-Paul / 99 rue Saint-Antoine 75004. The plan of the church is inspired by the Church of the Gesù in Rome, built by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in 1560. The church is very bright and still quite decorated, although much of the furniture disappeared during the revolution. In fact, there is a memorial plaque to the church's abbey who was killed in the revolution. If this church were in any city but Paris, it would be world-famous - its a real beauty.
So ended my day -