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I Did Nazi This Coming

Metropolitan Opera, New York: Parsifal Act III
Despite being a lifelong lover of and listener to opera, I've never had the ear for Wagner's music. I love hearing everything from Gluck up to John Adams, but skirted around or jumped over Wagner whenever the temptation presented itself.

I used the provocative 'N' word in the title of this post because one of the things that has always made me wary of the Bard of Bayreuth is the stain laid on it by its National Socialist admirers. That's not the only reason.

Reasons why I never liked Wagner:
The enormous length of his operas, often five hours plus. And my objection was not to the length per se, but to what it said about his musical language. For example, if like me you are steeped in Mozart's operative language, with its brilliance and variety and liveliness, Wagner's music can seem turgid and static by comparison.
The ridiculous medieval stories. Given the chance to watch Mozart or Puccini or Richard Strauss…
Recent posts

Dessins de Paris: 4

I am sitting on the Paris Metro on one of the fold-down seats near the sliding doors. The train is travelling between the Grands Boulevards on the Right Bank, and Denfert-Rochereau on the Left Bank. At one of the stations, the doors open and a woman walks in wearing a coat of expensive looking dark blue cloth with a billowing white cold-repelling collar. She has a string of pearls around her neck, and her face glows with lots of immaculately applied make-up. She sees someone she knows, and her mouth and eyes open wide at the coincidence of meeting a friend or acquaintance at that time of day, in a Metro system that ferries more than four million people around and beneath Paris every day.

(Medium: pen, Neocolor water-soluble wax pastels.)

Dessins de Paris: 3

This woman was walking down the Rue Daguerre in Montparnasse. I noticed several things about her. First, she wore heavy blue eye make up and wore tight fitting black clothes that made me think of the down-at-heels lefties I used to see walking around London in the 1990s. The second, more obvious thing was that she was carrying a baby in a sling, and smoking from a vaper directly over the baby's head. And not just smoking, but allowing clouds of nicotine-infused smoke to billow over and around the baby's face. French people are among the last resolute holdouts to anti-smoking crusades in Europe, and seem to take pride in smoking defiantly wherever they can get away with it, even if there's a big non-smoking sign displayed right next to them. So I'm pretty used to seeing cigarettes all over Paris. But this really takes the biscuit, as we English say.

Dessins de Paris: 2

I saw this chap on the Paris Metro, travelling on line 13 between Gaite and Champs Elysees. He boarded the train at Bir Hakeim, the stop closest to the Eiffel Tower. He looked run down and ragged, possibly homeless, but certainly one of the people who hop on and off the metro to beg for money in different carriages. This man didn't do the most common thing you see, which is to give his well-rehearsed hard luck story in a loud voice while he passes along the carriage with an upturned hat in his hand. The man in this drawing was singing a song, I think it was an old chanson like you would hear from the 1950s. I didn't recognize all of the words, but it was something about walking through the rain and being in love, and his voice was exceptionally good, a strong baritone with a nice tone, perfectly in tune. His face was covered in patches of bad skin, like he had been sleeping rough in cold weather, or maybe they were burns. But the voice that came out of that horrible exterior …

Dessins de Paris: 1

During my annual trip to Paris in January, I try to do as much drawing as I can, using neocolor pastels and occasionally pen. On the last two trips (2017 and 2018) I did a lot more drawing from memory rather than observation. There are so many interesting facial types among the people you see in Paris, so I try to fix the most salient parts of their features in my mind, through a series of brief and intense gazes. Then when I get back to the apartment in Montparnasse, I get out the pastels and begin work.

This is a new series for my blog, in which I post one of the drawings and try to remember the moment in which I noticed the person.

This first one was someone I saw on the Metro, Line 9, when Patty and I went over to the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, near the Palais de Tokyo on the right bank. It was bitterly cold, and this older gentleman entered the metro car having clearly just experienced a blast of the arctic air that was pummeling the city. Despite his wooly ha…

Following the Thread

I've been to so many art museums in my life and seen so many paintings, sculptures, and other highly wrought handmade objects of beauty. Yet I've never been too taken by tapestries, for some reason, usually choosing to walk past them and into another gallery where I can find more paintings to look at. But during my visit a few weeks ago to the Musee de Cluny (the medieval museum, basically) in Paris, I saw some things that made me stop in admiration.

There were rooms full of these gorgeous images, 10 feet by 15 feet or larger, created in tapestry in the 1400s or 1500s. The museum's collection is quite small and actually has hardly any paintings, so this forced me to spend more time on woven stuff than I normally would. I'm glad I did, because the artistry of the mainly anonymous craftsmen who made these pieces is astonishing. Look at the perfectly proportioned figures and animals, the rich colours, and the teeming imagination that fills every inch of them.

The prize o…

Retour a Paris

I'm back in Paris, teaching for the fourth consecutive year. During my most recent free weekend, I visited the Rodin Museum for the first time in more then twenty years. My visit coincided with the best weather so far -- bright and sunny and mild. The view of the Invalides from the gardens of the former Hotel Biron is spectacular:

 This summed up the experience of the museum, actually: the building being as deserving of admiration as the work displayed inside it. The rooms on the ground floor were full of these mouth watering combinations of belle epoque decoration and Rodin's writhing, muscular statuary:

Typically for me, the documentary material also caught my eye. Here is on the of the photos of Rodin using rooms in the hotel as a temporary studio, where he would entertain admirers, hangers on, and potential new clients (Rodin is seated at front-left):

The gardens surrounding the museum consist of sandy pathways leading through orderly bushes and topiary, interspersed with…