Paris 1907

“Paris is always a good idea.” Audrey Hepburn

In my early 20’s, I imagined traveling to Paris to enroll in an art history course.  Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal in the 1954 film, Sabrina may have had a strong influence given her astonishing transformation when she studied at a prestigious culinary school in Paris.  From heartbreak to elegance and grace (which of course, was always within her), Paris imbued Sabrina with an exuberant sophistication.

I experienced Paris in spring, albeit a couple of decades past my 20’s, and can reaffirm, that Paris is indeed a good idea.

I have gone back to Paris again, but in a different way.  I am seeing the world of Gertrude Stein through the eyes of Alice Babette Toklas, her closest friend and life partner.  I imagined that the “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” would be a rather easy read, something that I could get through in a couple of sittings.  Instead, I have become enrolled in the art history course that I longed for in my early 20’s.

Gertrude Stein has a marvelous talent for dropping names, without the snobbishness that usually accompanies that type of behaviour. This could be that Gertrude is speaking as if she were Alice; or perhaps it is because the names are familiar and I am seeing them in the light of a conversation rather than as a list of dates and accomplishments.   What is even more interesting is that every name has a personal story, as well as a place in an encyclopedia.

Gertrude Stein By Pablo Picasso –

Alice arrives in Paris in the year 1907.

“Picasso had just finished his portrait of her which nobody at that time liked except the painter and the painted and which is so famous, and he had just begun his strange complicated picture of three women, Matisse had just finished his Bonheur de Vivre, his first big composition which gave him the name of fauve or a zoo.” Gertrude Stein “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”

Gertrude and Alice created a vibrant environment where literary and artistic endeavours flourished. I am savouring the pages of this autobiography as if I were attending one of Gertrude’s soirees where art came alive in the scintillating chatter of a crowded Parisian atelier.  Paintings have taken on a personal narrative, which adds dynamics and a deeper understanding for the artwork.

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”  Gertrude Stein

Bonheur by Matisse

Bonheur de Vivre  By Henri Matisse -: 





Artists Against the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Looking Up

“I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am.”

Gustave Eiffel

Gustave Eiffel’s words have a prophetic ring.  The Eiffel Tower continues to be more famous than the man who designed and fought for her existence.  Surrounded by a history of controversy, the Tower embraces the whole of Paris within her benevolent gaze, confident that her ageless splendour will continue into the next century. It is difficult to believe that many well-known and respected writers and artists objected to her existence.  The Eiffel Tower

They called themselves the “Artists against the Eiffel Tower.” Charles Gounod, Guy de Maupassant, Alexandre Dumas junior, François Coppée, Leconte de Lisle, Sully Prudhomme, William Bouguereau, Ernest Meissonier, Victorien Sardou and Charles Garnier participated in a protest that included the words:

“To comprehend what we are arguing one only needs to imagine for a moment a tower of ridiculous vertiginous height dominating Paris, just like a gigantic black factory chimney, its barbarous mass overwhelming and humiliating all our monuments and belittling our works of architecture, which will just disappear before this stupefying folly. And for twenty years we shall see spreading across the whole city, a city shimmering with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see spreading like an ink stain, the odious shadow of this odious column of bolted metal.”

The twenty years was an reference to the Tower’s demolition, which was scheduled to occur in 1909.  Fate (and technology) intervened when the Tower was transformed into a giant radio antenna.  And despite the protestations of the early naysayers, the Eiffel Tower was officially declared to be a historical monument in 1964.

The Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel & The Pyramids

Gustave Eiffel remained unfazed by the criticism.  He went so far as to compare his efforts with those of the pharaohs of Egypt.

“My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?”

The Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty

The Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty

Today, on March 31, 2016, we celebrate another anniversary of the Eiffel Tower’s opening in 1889. In the Tower’s inaugural year, a staggering two million visitors came to view the monumental accomplishment.

When they saw the completed Tower, many of the dissenters changed their mind; others never accepted Gustave Eiffel’s engineering achievement.   And while we may, from the clarity of hindsight, disparage those who spoke out against the project, I would rather view the debate as a necessary dialogue.  Embracing new ideas has great merit, but recognizing traditions and past contributions has equal importance.

I invite you to discover Paris and the Eiffel Tower for yourself.