Paris: fragments of a travelogue

A beautiful Paris buildingSpent a week in Paris visiting my little sister. Had been there once before five years ago and did the main tourist circuit then, so could skip most of it this time. The one museum which I absolutely loved the first time around and did revisit was Musée d’Orsay – it’s a collection of mostly early 20th century art including a lot of art nouveau and impressionism, housed in a former train station which is ridiculously beautiful.

In terms of walking around and finding random interesting places as I usually do, Paris is kind of overwhelming. There are all these beautiful buildings one after another and nothing really stands out because there is no contrast to the plain and the ordinary. Pluck a random building from the center of Paris and transport it to any North American street and it would look absolutely remarkable. A surfeit of extraordinary buildings, on the other hand, was strangely tiring.

So instead, a few words about my favorite Parisian park and a couple of lesser-known museums worth checking out.

Promenade plantée

A section of vine-covered trellis with Parisian buildings in backgroundThis park is very well hidden and hard to just stumble upon unless you know where to look. It was built fairly recently in place of an old railway line that ran from Bastille through a central residential area. Also known as Coulée verte, it is narrow and elevated to about second-story level, running closely parallel to avenue Daumesnil, squeezed between buildings and sometimes even through buildings. It is shady, cozy and has lookout points like balconies that afford glimpses of Paris streets from above. By far the coolest park I’ve come across in Paris.

Museum of Decorative Arts

A section of a Marc Jacobs exhibit with a blue mannequin in a blue dress Located next to the Louvre on rue Rivoli, this museum is a medley of very neat exhibits. We went there looking for the museum of advertising, which turned out to be just a series of rotating exhibits in Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Currently, the advertising section is devoted to the history of the anise-flavored liqueur Ricard – posters, promotional items, bottle and glass designs from 1930s till now. This exhibit is on display in a very rough-walled, unfinished-looking set of rooms with all kinds of infrastructure showing – I loved the effect but could not honestly say if it was deliberate or if they were renovating.

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Fragments of books: Distrust That Particular Flavor

I usually prefer works of fiction to speak for themselves, without the need for behind-the-scenes commentary, the making of, or biographical information about the author. I never seek those things out and often actively avoid promotional material and reviews of those books that I know I will be reading anyway, so that someone else’s editorial commentary doesn’t get too much in the way of my own first impressions.

I guess that’s how I managed to read all of William Gibson‘s novels and short story collections without ever seeing an interview with him. I knew about his role in founding the cyberpunk genre from the university Sci Fi course that first introduced me to Neuromancer. After reading that novel, I didn’t really need to know anything else about the author because I was hooked on the fiction. It is excellent and smart and techy, with an elusive undercurrent of the arcane cutting edge.

Cover of Distrust That Particular FlavorWhen Gibson’s first non-fiction collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor, came out in January, I went to see him speak about the book as part of Toronto Public Library author talks & lectures and found that the man behind the fiction was even cooler than his cyberpunk heroes. Speaking slowly, with a calm assurance and intense intelligence, he was engaged with the audience, often funny and, perhaps by contrast with a buffoonish interviewer, seemed … regal.

Most of the nonfiction pieces collected in Distrust That Particular Flavor make the same impression their author does – they are utterly captivating. Written over the last two decades for publications such as Wired, The New York Times and The Guardian, the articles range from book and album reviews to observations of Japan, Singapore and the film industry, impressions of a pre-Google internet and details of Gibson’s own obsession with eBay, which started his antique watch collection. One of the most engaging pieces in the volume is the introduction, which details Gibson’s discomfort with writing non-fiction. Despite feeling out of his element, he pulls off nonfiction rather brilliantly.

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