It all coalesced with a string of pearls and a train car numbered 7.
My head had been reeling with happenstances that seemed to belong to the same cloth. On our 2-day visit to Paris, connected elements kept popping up and I never made too much of them individually, but the storage shelf in my mind was keeping track. The initial “whoa, that is so cool!” came as we checked into our hotel. The front desk clerk explained the wifi how-to’s, where to find the elevator, the breakfast room hours, and then handed us our key. Room 144 on the 6th floor. This surely was a good sign, right? Dave and I exchanged a knowing smile, thinking back fondly to our very own college year abroad, here in Paris, all those years ago. We rented a 2-room apartment in the 6th arrondissement, at 144 Blvd. St. Germain.
Every visit to Paris is not complete until we make our pilgrimage back to that address and touch the door. I’m pretty sure that every art student that has come on this program has accompanied us on our nostalgic visit. They have also experienced the embarrassment of Dave, their teacher, giving “too much information!” “Ugh!!” as he informed them with pride that it was HERE that our first born was conceived.
Heading out to “walk Paris” our feet took us on the familiar stroll, the walk that every one of our students is guaranteed: Gare de Lyon, past L’Opéra up to Bastille. Stop, marvel at the monument, then cross on to rue St. Antoine until it meets rue de Rivoli. Visit the St. Paul - St. Louis church then smile at the vintage carousel just outside the St. Paul metro stop. Veer slightly left onto rue François Miron. "Can you imagine, at the time of the Revolution, that all of Paris was made up of half-timbered houses like those two? Yes, those are the originals.” Right about this point in the promenade I am bonking. Plus, there are generally a few students that really need a toilet, so I go into La Perla (the Pearl). It’s a tapas bar / café and the waiter routinely is lax about how many toilet users I bring in in lieu of my 1,20E shot of coffee. Dave and I carry on with our ambling, taking in the familiar. “It’s like visiting old friends” I say, when Dave challenges my insistence that we walk the same trajectory as always. As evening’s crepuscule descends, we quietly and solemnly touch the door at 144. I am filled with love.
The following morning we head out to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, for they have a special exhibit of Impressionist / Post-Impressionist artwork on loan from St. Petersburg’s L’Hermitage museum and the Pushkin. In the very first room I am hit with such inspiration, such a palpable pull coming from the painting on the north wall. It’s just a nicely painted portrait of a heavy-set Russian woman dressed in a fluffy light blue “bridesmaid” gown. But around her puffy neck is a 4-strand pearl necklace that I can’t take my eyes off. Pearls! That’s it! The answer to my painting dilemma, my quest to outline my patterns with….something…something….
Pearls! La Perla! Pearls! My art stymied, stalled, bonking…La Perla, Pearls! Later in the exhibit I enter Galleries 6 and 7. I am floored..two entire rooms filled with masterpieces by Aix-en-Provence’s son, Paul Cézanne. Never have I seen such a vast collection of his work! During his lifetime not many French were as taken with his work as we are today, so his very own hometown of Aix only owns a few. No, if you want to see Cézanne’s, you either go to America or Russia. What a surprise to travel up to Paris from Aix, to make our way to this temporary exhibit, and to be gifted all of these Cézanne’s! I stood in front of a real beauty, one of his many paintings of Mt. Ste. Victoire. It is the view of the mountain that I look out on every morning as I drink my first cup of coffee. So familiar, both the subject as well as Paul’s painting style. I am rooted right there in Gallery 6, conversing with that painting. The staying power of art is mind blowing. When he stood in front of Mt. Ste. Victoire trying to capture her essence, little did Cézanne know that 121 years later his canvas would still be whispering to the likes of me.
A voodoo moment is happening, a clarity registering. Life is a tapestry, and those single threads weave back and forth, back and forth. I am sewn up in this cloth and the double back brings me in contact with words, numbers, visuals, places. It’s as if the more I experience, the longer I live, serendipity graces me with revisits, like the eternal rotations of that carousel at St. Paul.
It’s time to head back home to Aix. Five days left, and then our first batch of students arrive for their Art Term Abroad. I get excited thinking ahead to how THEY will interpret life in Provence. I know I’ve said this before, but seeing art and Europe through their eyes never gets old. We check our train number as the Agent SNCF scans our “pass sanitaire”. We are in car 7, I am assigned seat 66 and Dave seat 65. No. Way.
I was born in ’66, and Dave in ’65. My birthday is in July, the 7th month. There is no question, we are indelibly knotted in this moment.
Excerpt from my series Art Term Abroad: Feeling '22