Edvard Munch — The Scream
The Scream (1893)
Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard. 91 × 73.5 cm — Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo
Two years ago, during a holiday trip in Norway (I wrote a about it at the time) I had the opportunity to go to several museums in Oslo and see paintings by Edvard Munch (1863-1944), a national celebrity there and a painter I love.
The (National Gallery) owns about sixty paintings by him, from his early years up to 1920, and the (Munch Museum) owns most of the work of his later years, that Munch bequeathed to the city of Oslo.
Munch would often perform several versions of his works, including what is probably his most famous painting, The Scream (Skrik). The Nasjonalgalleriet holds one of two painted versions, displayed opposite. The Munch-museet holds the other painted version and one pastel. Another pastel is privately owned. Munch also made a lithograph of the image.
I found it very interesting so see different versions of a same painting displayed at the same time in these museums. Differences are sometimes big between works that look similar at first sight. Beside The Scream, it is the case with another famous painting by Munch, Madonna. This canvas is essentially the erotic depiction of a beautiful young woman who sleeps — or is perhaps swooning in an orgasm — with her black hair let down and her body laid bare. It is a painting I love for several reasons — including the fact that the model reminds me of a friend I had once.
Edvard Munch — Madonna
Edvard Munch — Madonna
Madonna (1894-1895)
Oil on canvas — Nasjonalgalleriet.
Madonna (1893-1894)
Oil on canvas — Munch-museet.
When I was in Oslo in August 2006, I saw the 1894-1895 version of Madonna (above on the left side) in the Nasjonalgalleriet. The warm tones of this version of the painting make the sensuality greater than in the version owned by the Munch-museet (above on the right), where cold tones stand out.

Edvard Munch — Madonna (lithograph)
Madonna (1895)
Lithograph — Munch-museet.
I could not see the latter though, because it had been stolen from the Munch-museet two years earlier, together with their version of The Scream. Both paintings were recovered in 2006, a few days after I left the country (coincidence only, I swear!). They and are now presented together in the Munch Museum.
Munch made a Madonna lithograph in 1895, that I saw in the Nasjonalgalleriet too. The expression of sexuality of the model is increased in this work, and spermatozoid-like motives are included in the frame (which is painted and part of the picture, in the Art Nouveau style). Sexuality here is closely associated with darkness and death though. An unborn fetus in the lower left corner of the picture introduces the notion of an abortion.
Nobody knows who the character portrayed in Madonna was, yet you can imagine there was a close relationship between Munch and her: the same woman was portrayed, in 1894-1895 also, in another painting by Munch named The Day After (Dagen Derpå).
Edvard Munch — The Day After
The Day After (1894-1895)
Oil on canvas — Nasjonalgalleriet.
It is the morning probably. The title of the painting implies that something big happened the day before. A young woman lies on a bed, upon the sheets. Her bed? not sure. She is still dressed, but her blouse is open on her breasts.
Two bottles and two glasses on a table indicate that she was not alone until little time before. You cannot see anyone else on the room though. Either she is alone, which means a man abandoned his prey after having obtained what he wanted... either Edvard Munch himself is looking at the scene, and you see it through his eyes. You don't know what hapenned, yet you feel sorry for this girl. As a man, you almost feel like apologizing.

Richard Avedon at Le Jeu de Paume

Richard Avedon talking with a model of his In the American West series
Richard Avedon talking with a model of his In the American West series

A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion.
There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.
(Richard Avedon)

Take a large sheet of white paper, approximately 2 meters high and 2.5 meters wide. Fix it on a wall, somewhere in the shade. Put your photographic chamber on its tripod in front of this screen, at about 2 meters.

When your settings are finished, don’t look in the viewfinder any more. Stand beside the camera and have a relaxed face to face chat with the model you’re going to take the picture, without any equipment getting in your way. If you’re talented, your name is .

Charles Chaplin — His last day in America, 1957
Charles Chaplin
His last day in America, 1957
I must acknowledge I was somewhat prejudiced against the work of Richard Avedon: I knew him as a fashion photographer only… and fashion is not my cup of tea. I did not know the other sides of his work until recently, when I read articles about the exhibit now held in Le Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris, where they said he didn’t take fashion photos only, but also portraits.

Clarence Lippard, drifter - Interstate 80, Sparks, Nevada - August 29, 1983
Clarence Lippard, drifter.
Interstate 80, Sparks, Nevada
August 29, 1983

I went to the exhibition earlier this week, and discovered how huge a photographer I had missed for many years. Besides the fashion pictures, I saw awesome portraits of celebrities: Anna Magnani just out of bed, Henry Kissinger scared by the camera, Karen Blixen sparkling with mischievousness, Charles Chaplin making fun of McCarthyism, Marylin Monroe touching and fragile…

Sandra Bennett, twelve years old — Rocky Ford, Colorado, 1980
Sandra Bennett, 12 year old
Rocky Ford, Colorado, 1980
Essentially, in two dedicated rooms, were exhibited about 30 portraits of middle class and poor Americans from the 17 western states, taken at the beginning of the 1980s, part of his In the American West series.

These are large portraits in black and white, about 1.50 meter high and 1.20 meter wide, that hang side by side on black walls, in shadowy light. Bare introverted faces of workers, children, women, old people, looking you straight in the eye, that bear an intense but subjacent emotional power.

Red Owens, oil field worker — Velma, Oklahoma - December 6, 1980
Red Owens, oil field worker.
Velma, Oklahoma
December 6, 1980
Faces, good looking or not, and so many marks on them… scars, freckles, oil marks, coal marks.

Roberto Lopez, oil field worker - Lyons, Texas - September 28, 1980
Roberto Lopez, oil field worker.
Lyons, Texas
September 28, 1980

Such photos immortalize their models. Many people will never forget these faces, that were anonymous once, in the same way they will not forget the untameable will shown in the piercing look of the by Stephen McCurry.

Even though a photo cannot show but the surface of a body or face, pictures by Richard Avedon and other great portraitists reveal the deepest part of the soul of their models, their character, sadness, strength, despair, fear, loneliness. A great exhibition, about a great photographer.

You think English is Easy?

You Think English is Easy? OK. Therefore, you will appreciate the text that follows, I received by mail some time ago:

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

Can you read these sentences right the first time?

  1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
  2. The farm was used to produce produce.
  3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. !
  7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time
      to present the present
  8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10. I did not object to the object.
11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .
13. They were too close to the door to close it.
14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race. Which, of course, is not a race at all.


From the black A[lpha] of original darkness to the light of white E, and finally the violet O[mega], the last colour in the spectrum. Letters in this poem by Arthur Rimbaud are considered graphic or sound objects that have inherent meaning and ability to awaken a lot of other ones.

About two years ago, I went to an exhibition in Le Grand Palais in Paris. Italia Nova was dedicated to Italian paintings and sculptures in the first half of the twentieth century. I was amazed then to see that several Italian Futurists of the 1920's would use letters and numbers as objects in the same modern way Rimbaud had first used half a century earlier and pop-artists such as Andy Warhol would do later as well.



A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d'ombre ; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles ;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux ;

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges ;
- O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux !

Arthur Rimbaud


A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:
A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies
which buzz around cruel smells,

E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
in anger or in the raptures of penitence;

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:
O the Omega! the violet ray of His Eyes!

Arthur Rimbaud

Flower of Scotland

The Saltire flag of Scotland
The Saltire flag of Scotland
(The Highlander, a Scottish Pub in Paris)

I arrived in Scotland two days ago, for a 9-day vacation trip in the country of and . News from the Castles and Highlands to come then, and from Nessie also perhaps, who knows?

Scotland is not an independent country anymore, therefore it does not have a national anthem. Yet a few songs are used instead, that convey Scottish will to differentiate themselves from the rest of Great Britain.

It is especially the case of Flower of Scotland, the beautiful, patriotic song by . Resolutely directed at the English, the song celebrates Robert the Bruce's victory against the troops of King Edward II at in 1314.

O Flower of Scotland
When we sill see
Your like again
That fought and died for,
Your wee bit Hill and Glen
And stood against him, Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again.

In particular, Scots break into Flower of Scotland at the Highland Games — sometimes — and before a match by the Scottish national rugby team — always.

Edinburgh, 17 March 1990. Scotland previously defeated Wales, Ireland and France in the Five Nations Championship. Today, in Murrayfield Stadium, the last match in this championship is about to start, against the auld enemy and hot favourite, England, undefeated also. Victory in the Championship, and a Grand Slam, are at stake.

ImagePlayers are on the field. Five minutes ago, while the English team ran into the Stadium as usual, David Sole, who captains the Scots, deliberately walked his men onto the pitch, in a slow, belligerent march, to deafening cheering of the home crowd.

English against Scots. Hundred years of conflicting history. Furthermore, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has experimented the Community Charge (aka Poll Tax) for one year in Scotland only, leading to massive disobedience, and riots to come shortly in the whole country.

Scotland vs England — 17 March 1990

Both teams are lined up in front of the VIP stand. Fifteen English players bravely sing God Save the Queen as strong as they can, while TV cameras slowly pass in review the staring faces of every Scot player fixed in a provocative silence. For the first time in their history, they don't sing the anthem.

Then, David Sole turns his head toward the musicians, and bagpipes start playing, while the Scottish team and whole home crowd — 50,000 souls — all together launch with fire into Flower of Scotland.

Needless to stay, Scots won the match and the Grand Slam. On that day, they just could not lose.

Bastille Day

Jean-Pierre Houel — The Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel — The Storming of the Bastille
July 14, 1789, by night. Louis XVI, King of France went asleep one hour ago in the Palace of Versailles, where Kings of France have resided since his ancestor Louis XIV, , made it the centre of its absolute power.

Every day, the King writes a few words in his diary. Today, he hunted for several hours as usual, so he wrote: Nothing...

His closer courtier, the Duke of La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, has just been told about , the medieval fortress and prison in Paris. He decides to awaken the King, and breaks the news to him.

The Bastille? it has fallen? the King asks, half asleep still.

Yes, Your Majesty. A messenger just told me the prison has been taken by the people. They killed Governor de Launay and Provost Flesselles, and walked their heads on poles by the streets of Paris.

Aw, it is a rebellion! the King says.

Oh no, Sire, it is not a rebellion. It is a revolution

Firemen's Dance

Firemen's place
A lantern and the tricolour
before a fire station in Paris
Bonjour Monsieur ! the guy told me with a big smile while I was quietly walking in the boulevard. How about a couple of tickets?

Damn, I was lost in thought, I did not see him. A fireman, selling raffle tickets for the firemen's dance. Firemen have been everywhere in Paris for several weeks. I succeeded in steering clear of them until now, but I got nabbed at the end! No luck, definitely!

French people celebrate their national holiday, Bastille Day, on July 14. Le 14 Juillet, as they call it, commemorates the storming of the Bastille fortress on 14 July 1789, an event that marked the beginning of the French Revolution. Although the prison held few prisoners at the time, its storming has become a symbol of freedom and fight against oppression for the French.

The holiday symbolizes the birth of the Republic, whose motto is Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood). Firemen are undoubtedly a good illustration of the brotherhood part of the motto, all the more since the French are not that fond of other people who wear a uniform.

Bastille Day's festivities begin on the evening of July 13 with free dances organized in the streets of every town, and especially in every fire station — it is Le bal des pompiers, Firemen's Dance. Hence the tickets the guy wanted to sell me, for a tombola during the dance at his fire station. He'd got some nerve, don't you think? After all, if you decide to go to a fire station tonight, you'll see a lot of gorgeous women for sure, but they won't even look at you, interested as they will be in firemen only. And this, frankly speaking, is something I can hardly understand: these guys in uniform are young, strong, handsome, cheerful, and they save lives... so what?

So, how about a couple of raffle tickets? the fireman repeated.

Well, see, I answered hypocritically with a friendly smile, I'd better not buy any. My wife and daughter will be so glad to buy them by themselves, you know!

Leonard Cohen in Lyon

Leonard Cohen
I went to Lyon yesterday. When you come from Paris, it is a short and easy trip: about 500 km, two hours by . I planned it meticulously several months ago though, when I heard Leonard Cohen would make a stage there on July 9, on his first tour in 15 years.

Obviously, L. Cohen is not any more the young writer of Beautiful Losers I blogged about lately. He is not any more either the folk singer who created Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat. He is a 73 year-old man with a history.

Although he was born in a Canadian Jewish family, and says he has always remained a Jewish, he has embraced Buddhist philosophy for decades. He spent several years in the nineties on Mount Baldy, a Buddhist retreat in California, then went back to the world, had most of his money stolen by his manager, recorded two more albums (Ten new songs in 2001, Dear Heather in 2004), and in 2008, at last, decided to tour again, starting with his homeland Canada, then Europe.

Roman Theatre in Fourvière
The Roman Theatre in Fourvière (Lyon)

Lyon was his first stage in France, before Nice on July 22 and Paris in November. The show was a unique evening performance in , a summer festival held every year from June to August in the marvelous site of the Roman theatre.

A very special place for a very special singer, the Roman Theatre was built more than two millenaries ago, during the reign of Augustus in 15 BC, as the centre of the Roman city of Lugdunum. It is just the best place you can dream of to be at a show. Just have a look at the picture above, I took yesterday in the afternoon, when they were making the stage ready : the site is gorgeous and its maximum audience is about 3,500 only, which means you're close to the stage wherever you sit.

Leonard Cohen

At 21:30, the show began. Leonard Cohen arrived on the stage half-running, a puny-looking white-haired man with a trilby hat. He said "bonsoir", and for the first time in my life I saw a crowd cheering an artist with a five-minute standing ovation *before* the concert.

He then said the first lines of a poem every French-speaking person in the audience recognized at once:

Danse moi à ta beauté
Avec un violon en flammes,
Danse moi dans la panique
Jusqu'au repos de mon âme...

Dance me to the End of Love

... it was a French translation of Dance me to the end of love, his musicians then began playing while he switched to English and started singing. He would later introduce most of his songs the same way during the first set, with a few lines translated into French. He talked in French also sometimes, so that everybody in France remembers (how could we forget it?) he is also a Québécois, born and raised in Montréal.

Leonard Cohen World Tour

The Future, There ain't no Cure for Love, Bird on a Wire, Everybody Knows... and so on, Leonard Cohen sang 23 songs, including 5 encores, with his deep and steady voice.

The whole of the show was very professional, thanks to the musical direction by Roscoe Beck (who plays the bass in the band also), but the professionalism of the performance did not lessen the emotion the lyrics gave vent to, of which the meaning so often goes beyond the words.

The three vocalists sang beautifully — Charley and Hattie Webb, the Webb sisters, and Sharon Robinson, that Cohen repeatedly referred to as his collaborator — she is the co-writer of several songs. Every musician was good, and was individually named by Cohen several times during the show after their solos: besides Roscoe Beck on bass, there was Rafael Gayol on drums; Neil Larsen on keyboards; Bob Metzger on guitar; Dino Soldo on, well, maybe ten different instruments, from saxophone and other woodwinds to synthesizer and blues harmonica; and last but not least, Javier Mas who played several stringed instruments, among which the Oud, in particular as a wonderful airy introduction to Who by Fire.

Between songs, applause was so loud sometimes that Cohen had to repeat merci, merci, thank you, thank you so much, until he was "allowed" to sing the next song.

In order to make the stone-built terraces more comfortable to the public, organizers had kindly provided recyclable and reusable cushions before the show. After the first encores, people started throwing their cushions to the stage, like frisbees. Several landed on there, which surprised Leonard a lot at first, then made him laugh and take his hat, mimicking he would throw it back into the public. One of the Webb sister even took a camera and made pictures of the scene, and apparently kept one cushion as a souvenir also.

Leonard Cohen

The concert lasted about 3 hours, according to my watch, since it told it was 00:35 when Leonard and his band left the stage for the last time.

"On n'est pas pressés" he would say during the show indeed (we're not in a hurry). I suspect my watch is a liar though: I can swear the whole performance certainly did not last more than half of that time.

Tao Tale

Yin & Yang Once upon a time in northern China, a small farmer lived close to steppes of which hordes of nomads had taken control. One day, he went back from the fair with a wonderful filly, for which he had squandered all his savings.

A few days later though, the young horse galloped away and disappeared beyond the dangerous border. The news quickly went around the village, and his neighbours each came in turn to sympathize with the peasant. Only he shrugged and said imperturbably:

— Clouds hide the sun, yet they bring rain. From a misfortune sometimes a benefit arises. We shall see.

Three months later, the mare came back with a superb wild stallion besides her. She was pregnant. Neighbours came and congratulated the lucky owner:

You were right in being optimistic, they said. You lost a horse first, but now you have three!
— Clouds sometimes bring rain, and devastating storms sometimes, the farmer said. Misfortune hides in the folds of happiness. Let us wait.

The farmer's only son broke the fiery stallion in, and loved to ride him. Several weeks later, he felt seriously and almost broke his neck. He came out of the accident with one broken leg. When the neighbours came and sang their complain again, the country philosopher answered:

— Calamity or blessing, who could know? Changes have no end in this impermanent world.

A few days later, general mobilization was enacted in the district to repel a Mongolian invasion. Every able-bodied young man had to go and fight. Few returned to their home. Thanks to his crutches, farmer's only son escaped the slaughter.



I took this picture several months ago, in a street close to my apartment. Lost in a sweet inebriated state, these homeless persons were friendly, and agreed gladly to be photographed.

When I took the photo, I found it funny that in Paris, even homeless winos would drink wine in stemmed glasses.

I took the photo, put the file into my computer... and did not show it to anyone. I felt ill at ease because I realized afterwards that it was not funny. According to a counting published lately, there are approximately 86,000 homeless people in France, a country with about 65 million inhabitants, of which at least 15,000 are in Paris. One can guess there are even more in reality though. Many hide because of bad weather, fear, or shame.

According to another study, 112 homeless people died in France from February to October, 2005. Their mean age was 49, while life expectancy of men and women in the country is 77 and 84 years, respectively. The youngest one was 31 year-old, half people were under 50. Twenty-one died a violent death: 8 murders, 7 blazes, 6 falls.

As a doctor myself, and although I rarely receive homeless people as patients, I know these persons often suffer chronic diseases. Their main illnesses are related to undernourishment (lack of vitamin C and calcium essentially): infections, anaemia, bleeding, neurological and cardiovascular disorders, bone fractures. They can be treated for free thanks to universal health coverage, but most of them are outside any network of socialization, and they don't know. Then, chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are not diagnosed or treated. Furthermore, homeless people often have heavy consumption of tobacco and alcohol, that induce cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis and cancers.

No, after all, this pic is not that funny.

The Statues of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty in Ellis Island, New-York
The Statue of Liberty — Ellis Island, New-York.
The Statue of Liberty, whose actual name is Liberty Enlightening the World, has stood in Ellis Island in New-York for more than 120 years: aimed at commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies in 1776, it arrived at New-York in 1886.
The Statue was the work of French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, with engineering help from Gustave Eiffel, and a present from the people of France to the people of the United States, dedicated to the friendship established between the two countries during the American war of independence.
The Statue of Liberty in the Jardins du Luxembourg, Paris
The Statue of Liberty.
Jardins du Luxembourg, Paris.
There are a lot of everywhere around the world, but Paris is probably the only city that gets two. First, a small Statue de la Liberté stands in Les Jardins du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens), a nice park in the centre of Paris, behind the French Senate on the left bank of the Seine River.

Les jardins du Luxembourg are in two basic parts. The organized part is a typical Jardin à la française, with straight dusty paths bordered with trees and playgrounds; there are also tennis courses, and pony rides, a marionette theatre, food kiosks and open-air cafes, and a big round fountain basin where you can rent sailboats and float them in... with the other ten-year-olds.
The wild part of Le Luxembourg is quite different. It is wilder, with deep bushes, many flowers, a fruit garden, beehives, and many statues, including this tiny model of the Statue of Liberty. In fact, it is not a replica, but the original bronze model of the statue. Frédéric Bartholdi used it as a pattern to have the New-York statue built, about 15 years later. He gave it to the city of Paris for the 1900's Universal Exhibition.

The Statue of Liberty in the Ile aux Cygnes, Paris
The Statue of Liberty.
Ile aux Cygnes, Paris.
There is another Statue de la Liberté in Paris. It stands in the Ile aux cygnes (Swans Island), near Grenelle Bridge on the Seine River. This statue is a copy. It was given by the city of New-York to the city of Paris in 1889. It faces west, towards its 'sister' in New York Harbour, which was erected a few years earlier and looks east, to the old world across the Atlantic Ocean.
To Auguste Bartholdi [...] America, with its democratic ideals and Republican government, was already enlightened, Barry Moreno, a librarian at the Statue of Liberty National Monument, once wrote. Europe, still full of czars and emperors, was not. Sadly, things have changed; enlightenment now appears a feature of countries on this side of the Atlantic rather. Yet hopefully, it will reappear in the U.S.A., with time...
Anyway. Happy July 4 to all the U.S. Americans!

Ingrid Betancourt freed
Postscript : I could not imagine when I wrote this blog that would arrive in Paris this afternoon, after she was rescued by Colombian forces on Wednesday.
Over the years of Ingrid Betancourt’s captivity in the Colombian jungle (almost six and a half year), France championed the Colombian-French politician and anti-corrupt activist as a symbol of endurance, holding rallies, marches and other events to draw attention to her plight.
Large posters bearing her face hang from the entrances of hundreds of French city and town halls, including in Paris, and on the summit of Mont-Blanc in the Alps. The posters are now crossed by the word LIBRE! (free!), at last.
Today was undoubtedly a great day to publish a blog about Liberty.


The Steeple of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
The steeple of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Paris - May 2006)

Taking photos of monuments and places in Paris is often discouraging: wherever you go for a stroll in the city, you see hundreds of postcards on display, whose pictures are identical or (most often) better than yours. Nevertheless, I've never seen something similar to the pic above, of which I must admit I am quite proud. It is the steeple of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris' oldest church, seen between the bronze slabs of a fountain situated on the opposite sidewalk of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

Image Home to a number of famous cafés, such as Les Deux Magots and Le Café de Flore, where artists, writers and philosophers would meet, Saint-Germain-des-Prés area used to be the centre of gravity for the surrealists painters and writers (André Breton especially) in the 1920s and 1930s, then the headquarters of existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in the 1950s and 1960s. The area is much older though: the first parts of the church were built as an abbey in the 6th century.

There is a fountain in front of the church, in the Place du Québec, at the crossing of Boulevard Saint-Germain, Rue de Rennes and Rue Bonaparte (see Wikimapia location).

ImageIt's a modern fountain, the work of a Québecois artist named Guillaume Daudelin. More than an ordinary fountain, it is a sculpture, given in 1984 as an hommage from Quebec to the city of Paris. It is called L'Embâcle, which means Ice Jam (that is, obstruction of a river bed with blocks of ices). There is no gap between the sidewalk's large paving stones and the fountain's four slabs of bronze, so that the pavement seems lifted up by the water that sprays through it.

Image L'Embâcle beautifully conjures up break-up of ice in Québec when springs arrives at last. It is famous because of its artistic value, and functional originality as well. Among kids, it is well known also... as the best slide in the neighbourhood!

The day I took the photo on top of this entry was my lucky day: the fountain had been switched off because the weather was cold. No spray any more, no water inside, only little puddles on the ground. I could sneak into the fountain as a housebreaker, kneel down in there, and steal a couple of shots.

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