Do not get me wrong. Running around Parc Monceau has been really great. It is a quiet, consistent loop shared by all sorts of other runners and lap after lap allows you to get into a rhythm. When I run the circle, I feel like I am blending in much better than normal. Nobody asks me, “Bonjour, où se trouve …” and asks me directions to Avenue de Friedland (in which case, I said, “Je pense que c’est …” [I think that it’s …] and pointed in what I now think was the wrong direction). On the runner’s highway at the park, the only direction is counter-clockwise, unless you have chosen to go clockwise along the gravel path.
But on Tuesday, I chose to run to the Bois de Boulogne, a 2,100-acre wood outside of the western edge of the city. After ditching the roadside path for gravel trails through the trees, it was a relief to get out away from the crowded streets. It was calm and green, but I could not get too far without hearing the distant sound of cars passing. This was my kind of forest. And then, right when I was about to turn around, there was a gigantic gray something in the middle of the woods. I ran a bit more, crossed a road, and there it was: La Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by the architect Frank Gehry.
I had just put a few thousand miles between myself and the Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum, where I worked as a student this past year. And here I was, in the middle of a French forest, running into a building designed by the same architect and built a bit more than a decade later. Walking around the slate exterior with huge glass curves jotting in different directions, I discovered a WAM on crack. The curvy movement Gehry was trying out with the museum in the early 1990s was also here on the outskirts of Paris, except bigger, less shiny and breathtaking in a different way.
As you can see from the above, I write about architecture at a high school level. But the Fondation, like the Weisman, was surrounded by a few people who could probably write eloquently essays on great buildings like this. The Fondation’s visitors had come here just for the architecture, taking pictures from below the arcs and discussing them in German. Their presence confirmed the place’s excellence and is existence; it was not just a mirage in the trees.
After a weekend of new métro lines and traversing new neighborhoods with neither map nor app, I felt weirdly confident that I could run into the woods, get myself out of them and get back to the apartment without breaking a (figurative) sweat. But I was wrong. I came out of the Bois nowhere near Porte Maillot where I had entered, and the Fondation had gotten me all turned around. Plunging into the 17ème, I found my way onto Avenue Victor Hugo, around the Arc de Triomphe, and back to quieter territory. Running around the park the next day would be a welcome break from the wrong turns, cigarette smoke, and car exhaust.
‘I feel like the person I’ve always wanted to be.’
This is what my friend Avery said after a day that started with us all getting soaked in the Marais and ended with her losing her shoe on the métro (after which she had to spend a half hour filling out paperwork to get it back, standing on one foot the whole time. She said this is the most French thing that has ever happened to her — I think it had to do with both the absurdity and the bureaucracy involved).
In the middle of getting rained on and loosing a flat, we decided to follow our friend Nyssa through the neighborhood to a private gallery. Because we had spent most of the day slogging through a rained-out street art festival in the 18th district and then drying out in the Musée Carnavalet, the warm métro and our beds seemed more tempting than another exhibit by now, but those thoughts were gone as soon as we stepped into the electric white space.
Imran Qureshi’s exhibition, “Idea of Landscape,” was full of violent red droplets against backdrops of gold and white. After looking at old historical furniture and panoramas of Paris from above, seeing something new, applicable and alive was invigorating. Slipping into a space full of people who know where to go and whose attire could impress even the classiest Parisian felt pretty damn good. And someone came out with a tray of gallery-friendly white wine, and I took it, murmuring « merci » and trying to hide the fact that I was freaking out on the inside.
Wandering the brightly lit gallery among the reds and golds, stopping to take pictures and to talk with the artist, we forgot the cold dampness of our clothes. Avery summed it up best: “Now that I’m in Paris sipping free wine at a gallery, I feel like the person I’ve always wanted to be.” She was joking, but she was also spot-on.
Despite a stolen umbrella on our way out (unexpected in the high-brow setting, but it happened), we wandered out of the gallery and past shop windows of pants-less mannequins, all of our shoes on our feet for the time being.
As for the graffiti — here is a shot of some street art I found in Montmartre and some “métro art” I found on the way home last night.