The thing I remember about my first week living in New York was the constant reminders I got from my then-husband to stop making eye contact with strangers and to never look up at the tall buildings.
Twenty years later and I still forget these rules. All the time. I make eye contact. A lot. And I am still surprised when people grunt back at me after I say hello. It’s the part of New York I hope to never get used to.
I love that when I am in Paris, people not only make eye contact, they often say hello then ask me where I am from and what I am doing with my time here. I love that when I am here, I can look up without strange looks.
Last night was no different. I was at the Louvre with a plan to live blog. I should have known better. I have never been good at live blogging anything. Still, I try. As I was sitting at the cafe working on my plan of action for the three hours I had left, a man seated next to me asked me how I got onto the Wifi. I pointed at the word “Orange” and smiled. See, my French is getting better. A few minutes letter my seat mate asked where I was from and we struck up a conversation about his last trip to New York (he arrived on the Sunday before Sandy and was stuck in NYC for 5 days) and what brings me to Paris each year.
He told me that the building with the twinkling lights you can see from anywhere is City Hall (so pretty) and he told me how to find my favorite painting “A La Redeaux de la Meduse”
(go past the Mona Lisa, make a right).
More about my new friend later, but the short story is that he has a Master’s in Fine Arts and loves to stop and look at the buildings just as much as this tourist does.
But back at the Louvre…”La Redeaux” is a painting by Gericault and as much as I love everything in the Louvre this painting is the one that moves me the most. I can remember sitting in front of it for over an hour on my first trip to Paris, all the while trying to hold in the tears the painting evoked. Before finding “my painting” I had forgotten to look up, to make eye contact. I think I was trying to hide out but then I got here and the city wouldn’t let me.
Here is what else I learned on that trip that has stayed with me. In art, romanticism is the style which validates the use of strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experiences. I had no idea, until I fell in love with “La Radeaux,” that I am a romantic.