It was a very short one, but i think I like this most recent visit to Paris.
I was there for just a few hours and took almost 20000 steps.
And I think i took a nap at Musee d’Orsay. But I am not quite sure.
All of my travel today was on the metro and on foot. And this is a good way to move about in a city.
The day ticket for the metro was only about 9€. Not so bad for all the many journeys on all the different little trains and with the many, many people. The ticket was a little piece of paper with a magnetic strip. It kept losing its information again and again and again. I think I have to exchange it three or four times.
And I liked that. It is good to have a slightly predictable conversation about something again and again.
Everyone was so nice.
The people on the metro in Paris are so different from those in other places. The sense of fashion is so local and cool. I probably kept staring. One guy seemed to have chosen to wear as many big names of fashion on his body and then a few more bags with others. But it didn’t look ostentatious at all. The mix was good. There was an older gentleman who was also incredibly well put together.
I am writing this on a train again. This time, it’s the one that connects Paris to Frankfurt in about four hours. I think that is faster than a plane journey. Not because the train can be faster than a plane while it’s moving. But once one considers all the journeys and bits around the journey itself, the train feels like a real winner. Planes use so much energy to get off the ground and to land. They are smaller and noisy and they take off and arrive somehow far away from most places. There are limitations on what one can bring on board too.
Here I am traveling with some raw milk cheese and some cheap supermarket wine. I can walk around and take a nap. The train waited on a platform in Gare Est, it will drop me off right above the S-Bahn station form which trains go every few minutes towards home.
My expectation is that I will go in and out of sleep. I feel exhausted.
It’s not horrible. Having a glass of onboard wine now.
I wonder how I used to write my blog entries in the evening after a full day of work in the various agencies in New York? How was there anything left in me? Was my brain more resilient? Perhaps the entries were somehow simple. I used to describe the weather and some basic emotions. I did it again and again and again.
I discovered rhythm then and I discovered the circular writing I still can’t escape today.
Just like my drawings, the messages are circles in circles in circles. They start with almost a grain, a seed of a thought. And then they somehow expand, to then grow small and personal again. Just like that.
There is a certain unpredictability as to where it will all land if at all.
My writing, as my drawings, appears to take on shapes and grow into itself.
In the process there is the potential of some kind of discovery.
I did not see L’Origine du monde today. Did not look for the painting at the museum. Instead of seeking individual works of art, I just let myself drift through the museum. It was not lost on me that I had arrived on a train and then took a train to look at art in a former train station.
My slow discovery walk was full of delightful surprises. The museum contains so much brilliant work, it’s a bit of an insult to go through it in just a few hours. I am not sure how many of the paintings I saw today were also paintings I have seen before. So many of them have been reproduced so much and in so many places that it is difficult to keep things straight. So many of these images have been companions and sources of inspiration since I was a desperate teenager trying to somehow express my wild emotional ride through art.
Here I was now with a phone, among people with phones, looking at phones and at the artworks. My brain somehow no longer capable of understanding that these were the actual objects that had been touched by specific artists pushed into what they are now by these amazing people and then protected and cared for, for over a hundred years. So many of the works on display here have such presence and such intimacy in them that it feels like they could have been painted yesterday. Or maybe tomorrow.
Redon’s work has been among my all time favorites ever since i saw a tiny paining of his at the Liebighaus in the early 1990s. But here at the museum there were many of his paintings, and Eve was here, so incredible. I did not see his friendly spider. But for the first time saw the commission he created for Baron de Domecy. That work is so beautiful and inspiring. One of the paintings is sown together from two canvases, quite visibly with an orange thread. And it is part of the idea to have a bit of a Frankenstein painting. It really works well. Some of the other paintings look like flowers suspended in thick cream. The very beautiful, organic compositions are so good and timeless.
I could keep going on and on about the works and the people looking at them. It all felt quite okay and fairly normal. The real personal Paris moment was still waiting for me, and it was an artwork. But it was not at the museum.
I tried to get some Christmas presents in the normal places, but I seem to have lost interest in the manufactured and the sold. I treasure experiences and moments of interaction. But “stuff” just feels less and less relevant to me.
Objects still find me, of course. Like that funny refrigerator magnet attached to a streetlight just outside of the Louvre. But the moment of finding it there, waiting for me, feels much more magical than the thing itself.
It’s funny how I seem to be returning to some state of less.
Perhaps this is normal.
I got some wine and some cheese at a supermarket in a side street somehow and then the sun was already setting and so the metro took me back to Gare Est. I was much too early, and my phone was about to die.
I decided to look around the station a bit. Took an escalator just north of the station. It was strangely lit and felt like it didn’t belong there.
On the hill I found myself in what seemed to be an incredibly busy and vibrant neighbourhood. Most of the people in the streets were men, very busy doing something important. Many shops were selling hand-made sweets and phone accessories. The lighting was somehow different and the sounds of everything seemed amplified. The air was filled with a certain energy that was positive and interesting. I found a supermarket and in it many shoppers not allowed to buy any of the alcohol after 17 and before 7am. I am not sure if that is something that is a rule in that particular neighbourhood or across France.
I would have stayed longer but the battery on my phone was giving me all kinds of warnings and I had to have a working phone to be able to show my train ticket to a likely German conductor.
So, I walked back into the station. It felt smaller, returning to it on the brightly lit escalator.
I at first tried to ask a newspaper shop owner for some electricity. He had no reason to help me. I went on to ask two men in high visibility vests about some way to charge my phone. They pointed out a group of benches where many versions of me, men, women, all age groups, were sitting and charging their phones before leaving for their commute home.
It was here, after I sat down and plugged the phone into an old USB plug (I knew to never do that), when I finally seemed to be given the main message of this trip.
Above us, suspended near the ceiling of the waiting area was a large painting. I thought it must have been at least 10 meters across. (It’s 12x5m. Big.) It looked American somehow. A scene of young men getting on a train. One of them, the kid in the middle was lifting his gun, in it were flowers. It looked both like a moment of joy and also a moment when the gun goes off.
On the platform, in front of the train with young men, an entire range of people had assembled. There was the young mother, an older gentleman with flowers in his hand, not the gun. An older lady, children, everyone.
There was not much ethnic diversity in the painting, but this did not seem strange.
The work had clearly been created by a really skilled painter. It has a great energy to it.
In the lower right corner of the work was a fairly large signature and a date. Albert Herter 1926.
By now my phone had enough battery power for me to dive into Wikipedia. And there I found this:
Le Départ des poilus, août 1914
And so, a father painted here this, for his beloved son, whom he last saw at this very station. His son is the joyful guy in the middle of the painting. Albert Herter painted himself as a beaded man holding the flowers. His wife Adele and the mother of the excited son is on the other side of the composition. She is holding her hands close to her heart. She stares into space with a deep sorrow.
The people on the depicted train are going to war. It is August of 1914 and everyone is utterly giddy to go. Well, most people are.
Herter’s son Everit, depicted here, was also a painter. He volunteered in the camouflage division after the US joined the war.
His train left Paris around 1917. 1918 he was dead.
I believe that the portrait of him is a real character study. I do not know much about him, but from the tiny Wikipedia description he sounds like a wonderful young man.
Albert Herter, the painter was so heartbroken obviously that he pushed through and poured his grief into this rather joyful painting. The reason why this painting exists is sheer horror.
So many people, especially young people, were killed, so brutally, in the World War I. It was the first modern war. The brutality was amplified, optimized and mechanized. It was the war in which chemical weapons were explored and used. It was the war in which soldiers in trenches were sometimes so exhausted that they just waited for death to come to them.
I was looking at one way of how a painful, personal experience could be processed. Creativity and the ability to somehow make a thing that can travel through time and tell a story is something well understood and part of being human. But here was deep grief depicted as a moment of joy, a bit of a victory really.
Everit’s posture is victorious. It reminded me of how Vitautas, or Witold, is depicted holding his weapons in the Bitwa pod Grunwaldem Painting by Matejko.
The talent and potential of those who are killed in a massive conflict are lost to humanity as a whole. It is a loss we can’t really quantify because we will never know what we really lost.
Who knows what could have become of Anne Frank. Do we have any idea what the millions of people killed as collateral damage in some greedy global exercises could have contributed to the beauty of this world?
The war does never kill everyone. There are survivors. And there are those who are able to then channel their grief into something that is beauty. It’s a bit like the poppies growing on blood drenched ground?
But some of the survivors are trapped and traumatized and so deeply infected with hate, that conflicts often experience an aftershock. The pendulum swings back, often worse.
Everit Herter did not survive the war. Another painter did. Adolf Hitler.
We all should know how he processed his experience of the war. We are still barely able to understand how deep the wounds are in humanity.
I came to Paris trying to ask questions of this incredible place.
Here I was about to board a German train in Gare Est and then comfortably go past some ground that had experienced unspeakable violence. But I was just having a nap, at 320km/h
We find ourselves in incredibly violent times. As I am writing this, so many children have been killed and so many parents too. Entire families wiped out. Humans using violence against other humans with ever more modern tools of destruction, burning through massive amounts of money that was very often earned in a very hard way.
I am so worried. I am so worried for all those who are hurt. And I am so worried who are afraid they will be.
We are on this planet for such a short period of time. We should be feeding each other, appreciating each other, supporting each other, loving each other. But death should perhaps be something that should be left to nature to administer to us all.
Oh, what a silly thought. There is such growth potential for so many industries in feeding the machine of war.
There is the individual decision though. And I know that not everyone has the privilege and the luxury of freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of choice.
On the individual level though perhaps there is a chance for those who have options to not let themselves be infected with the destructive disease of violence and hate.
Those who still know how to have a flame of creativity in them. We can take that little flame and we can try to light that little light in others too. It will protect them from hate, even beyond our lifetime.
It can give them a way to somehow push through and to find an element of beauty and hope, even in the most horrific of moments.
The other opportunity is to not give up on those we love in any other way. And those who are more able to feel love are unfortunately also more capable to feel suffering. But being generous with love will create more of it. And it will create a much finer, slower image of a world we want.
“Whoever saves one life is as though they saved all of humanity.” I keep remembering versions of this phrase. I had no idea that it is written in both the Talmud and in the Quran.
The life to be saved is anyone’s. The life to be saved can even be one’s own.
I do have the feeling that things will get worse in the world before they get better. But as long as we know that there are good people out there, daring to put creativity and kindness against hate and destruction I think that will make us somehow survive
I wish my old friend Talha Nazim (his name was really Muhammad Talha Nazim) lived still. He was one of the most amazing creative people I have ever met. I can’t describe his creativity.
He was an amazing human being. But he could sometimes also get a tiny bit frustrating in a way that he always wanted to listen.
He wanted to hear about more and about people and about their ways and everything.
His openness and curiosity was brilliant. (He also seemed to know more of Rumi’s poetry than most).
I keep thinking of him. And I keep asking whatever divine force is driving all this.
What is this?
Why is this?
What will this turn into?
Every morsel of this world contains wisdom for us to discover.
To discover it in our lifetime we need to be alive.
To grow ideas in our lifetime and beyond we need to make sure others are alive to do something with them.
There is opportunity in everything and in every moment.
Well, the only moment that actually lets us really dance with it is