It is very hard to believe that this time next week I will be in Paris, at my apartment, probably shopping at the Amelie grocer. I am sure that three weeks from today I will be saying I can’t believe it’s over. The passage of time is fascinating to me.
Aside from practicing Rosetta Stone and walking the treadmill to prepare for the trip, I have also been reading a few books to get me in the mood (as if I need more motivation). I selected three books that detail the lives of other Americans who lived in Paris for a length of time. I reviewed David Lebovitz’s book, The Sweet Life in Paris, yesterday and learned some useful manners that will hopefully help me not be viewed as one of those “obnoxious” Americans. I also started reading Julia Child’s, My Life in France. While I still mentally picture Meryl Streep as this iconic chef from the movie Julie and Julia, I distinctly remember the days before cable television when there was no Food Network channel and the only cooking shows were available through Public Television. I had just graduated college and would anticipate the airing of Julia’s next installment of The French Chef. I even purchased her two cookbook set, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although I was never brave enough to attempt any of the authentic recipes. I am enjoying reading about her humble beginnings in the foray of French cooking, and I love her sense of adventure in the City of Lights.
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik is another book that I have started to read in order to experience the life of an ex-pat’s life in Paris. While I enjoy his detailed essays of Paris in the late 90s, I find that I skim them more than savor every detail. Perhaps it is because he chronicles the adventure as the father of a young son, and I am no longer in that phase of life, or perhaps his interests are not as focused on fine cuisine like the other two books, which apparently is a dormant passion of mine. Anyway, it is a good book and is adding another dimension to my appreciation of this fascinating, cosmopolitan city.
The other genre of books that I am reading during this final week of preparation is art books – more specifically, Impressionism art and even more specific than that — those that are geared towards teaching children how to appreciate these artistic masterpieces. I believe I was skipped over when it came to the artistic gene (my brother received my share though – so all is good). But couple that with the fact that my private elementary school did not even offer an art class puts me at a severe disadvantage when it comes to appreciating masterpiece paintings. In fact, when we used to live in New York in the mid 1980s I would joke and say that I could visit the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art in one hour. A slight exaggeration — but only slight.
But I am a firm believer that learning is a lifelong pursuit – and about four years ago I decided that even if I did not have the talent to paint – I wanted to learn how to appreciate the talents of others. I tried reading very detailed (insert dry and boring) books on art history, but they were long on historical significance and short on practical explanations. The only exception to this, I found, was the book, The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland, PhD. This book provides a general overview of each of the major time periods, and it is filled with lots of pictures – the perfect combination for a visual learner such as myself.
However, I was still struggling to learn how to appreciate the true works of art. So I decided to look in the children’s department and what a treasure trove I found. The first book I came across was, appropriately titled, Looking at Pictures, created by the National Gallery in London. While the tag line indicates that this serves as “an introduction to art for young people” I would add that this is probably geared towards upper elementary to middle school students. It is a nice, general overview.of the artistic elements, time periods, and styles. Again, lots of pictures are used to illustrate the points made.
My favorite books, however, are published by DK Eyewitness books. There are two that I have found to be indispensable to me in learning how to really view a painting – what to look for – what makes it unique and worthy of museum status. The first is Great Artists Explained — which details 50 artists and their works; and the second is Art Explained which details and explains the worlds greatest paintings. Both of the fabulous guidebooks are written by Robert Cumming.
I love these books because they are written for the “average joe” – using every day language that we all understand and not a lot of specific vocational vocabulary. Each painting is illustrated on a two page spread – so it is easy to see the details and provides a wonderful visual aid for the written explanations. The author then highlights certain aspects of the painting by zooming in and providing anecdotal as well as academic information. I find these books suitable for young children, who will just enjoy looking at the pictures and seeing what is they want to see — as well as the neophyte adults like myself who wish to really learn WHY I like a painting.
I am especially looking forward to studying the works of art that I plan to see in person at the Musee d’Orsay. I think there is an added magical element of studying a painting in a book, and then facing the original work of art in real life.
It is oppressively hot in the Midwest today – in fact, we are in an excessive heat warning until Friday afternoon! It seems to be the perfect week to sit back with a glass of iced tea, a book of art, and enjoy the beauty. I hope that you are able to enjoy the summer weather this week as well.