Paris Dispatches is the blog of ArtSlant's Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence, Brett Day Windham, who will be undertaking her residency in Paris during January and February 2015. She will be using the blog to share her process, work, and experience throughout the residency.
Georgia Fee Summer 2015 Residency Session is now accepting applications. You can find more information about the residency and how to apply here.
“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”
I see the sun spots reflected on my courtyard walls. It rained like crazy yesterday and now there's a sun and bluebird skies. I shake off the exhaustion from hours of drawing the night before. I wash away most of the evil thoughts towards my upstairs neighbor, who sawed away on something until four and then started blasting french gangster rap at eight. Dress, coffee, and out the door.
First, to Bastille.
Outside the Picasso Museum
I take a route that leads me past the Place des Vosges. It is sunny, and Sunday, and I want to see it full of children and families just once before I leave (for some reason it’s usually nighttime/raining/bitterly cold when I happen by). I cruise easily through the empty streets of the Haute Marais, skirt the line at the gorgeous Picasso Museum, and lêché les vitrines before some shuttered Japanese-French boutiques. The Place Des Vosges is just as I had hoped: full of liveliness.
Peeking into the Place des Vosges at Night, as it is when I usually seem to pass by
The Colonne de Juillet comes into view, and then so does Le Marché Richard Lenoir. On and on, row after row, it stretches for blocks to the northeast. The most beautiful assortments of baguettes are dusted with flour and stacked like building blocks, and there are striped canvas cloths displaying rows and rows of eggs. Upended sea urchins (displaying their soft orange goo) bump spikes with cashmere scarves at the next table. Beggars sit on the ground, panhandling to Dior-shaded women in sneakers and fur. Attractive Parisian Ladies bring their Moroccan mint tea out in tall etched glasses to sun on a bench, mid-market. Men sing the names of their produce as though songs from their native tongue; one man’s oranges become the object of lost love in an Algerian ballad, tomatoes a Spanish jig. The constant appeal of "Madame, Bonjour Madame" echoes down the crowded stalls, all part of the orchestra. Young women carry straw market baskets with leather straps, while practical middle-aged ladies have forsaken all that for the canvas-covered pull-cart. Everywhere, the practical butts up against the tempting. I curse my stupidity for having eaten breakfast at home. I try to remember that I'm working—eyes down for artifacts of the market—but find only pink plastic bag tabs, and some red mesh from the tops of clementine boxes. I shove them dutifully into the specimen bag and keep going. (Note: It is too crowded to get my camera out, and I am relishing the experience too much to bother, but this market is very well documented...as you will see if you follow the links.)
This part of the market smelled of roses and clementines
Next, I descend into the Metro, bound for Les Puces at Porte des Vanves.
Vanves is everything I wanted the flea market to be. I'm sorry that when I was here with my parents we wasted our time at the grand market at St.-Ouen. The market is around the corner from the metro station. The dealers’ various Astro vans create a kind of automotive privet hedge, rendering the market invisible and protected from the street as it winds around a huge soccer field. At Vanves things are affordable, it is friendly, I can respectfully take photos, I feel welcome. There are little things to enjoy. I could easily fill a home with one visit here. I do not find the vintage Hermes scarf of my dreams, nor do I find any Hermes scarves at all, but I find gifts for the people I love. The gifts are weird little bits and bobs, and they may be the wrong things, but the urge to leave with treasure is too strong.
Marché Aux Puces at Porte De Vanves, creating crystal goblet desires
As I walk on I admired ancient dirty tunics of bleached heavy linen, delicate christening gowns, dozens of pince-nez, beautiful leather cases for anything you could ever need, birds wings fastened into hatpins, brass pots, a beautiful brass chandelier of painted flowers, fur coats, books, beautiful cartographer’s tools in molded and flocked cases, pottery, cameras, boar’s heads on plaques, a seashell coinpurse with a hinge, and souvenir spoons. At the edges, at the highway overpass, are the poor. They are there with their rags spread out on blankets, miscellaneous chargers and outdated electronics on cardboard.
Heaped fabrics at the marché
As the market began to close, I retrace my steps. Through the thinning crowds, I notice things on the sidewalk: bits of antique lace, old buttons, a long and probably bootleg ribbon marked “Hermes 2013,” a tiny antique French Boy Scouts book stuffed with vintage black-and-white photographs, pieces of pottery and a pile of torn-up old Italian lire. This marks my transition from flâneuse to glâneuse; if walking gently and idly with the crowd through the flea market was the perfect gentile expression of the modern day flâneur, being the batty lady picking up discarded ancient bits takes my presence and state of mine from the observer to scavenger. And thus I skirt feminist archetypes (pun semi-intended). I find so many little things as the market folded into parked vans and disappeared that I feel I might have rubbed the magic away. It is a weird feeling, to go from coveting beautiful antiques to scavenging for discarded remnants under the trees. Almost immediately, the next shift arrives. Swarthy looking men are already setting up their tents and tables for cheap clothes and dollar candies; clearly they mark the next market cycle of the day. All is temporary.
The assortment of finds from the Market at Vanves, ready to be logged into my specimen-sketch book
While I collect feathers and scraps, I meet Yves Bourdon,an antique carpet dealer, with ancient rugs thrown up over the chain link wall behind him and on the ground, to create an instant Souk. Whenever people look a little uncomfortable, I try to explain my project a little bit. In general, I have found that as soon as I explain what I am doing (in my broken French, free from the confines of tenses or grammar) people are absolutely lovely to me—I could be wrong, but it feels like this is a city that celebrates its creative class as heroes. When I do my little song and dance for him he gets very excited. He wants me to come to his shop in town and possibly make watercolors of some of the rugs, or propose another artist's project to him. I take his card, thank him, and extract myself.
Case in point: An hour later, I stumbled on these plaques in the vestibule of Hotel Delambre
And now, as I walk back into town from the periphery, following signs for Montparnasse, I am determined not to use a map. Back in fIâneur mode, I am more and more determined to find my way serendipitously. I am dictating this essay into my iPhone as I walk north on Rue Raymond Losserand, past the Passage des Arts and then a typical Parisian florist-hospital-funeral home complex. I think Baudelaire would have loved iPhone dictation; he would never have to stop and jot down notes, he could continue move, eyes up, roving the crowd and the streets as he spoke quietly into his phone.
The southern edge of Paris, empty on a Sunday afternoon
Suddenly I have arrived in Montparnasse. The tower rises up to my left as I cross the busy Avenue De Maine, and move towards the quiet wall at the cemetery.
Crossing through the walled road between two sections of Cimitiere du Montparnasse
I pass through, and on through streets like the stunning, sun-drenched Rue du Cherche Midi, with portal doors open on the courtyard of the old Thuileries Palace, with it’s sculpture of Neptune. I keep walking until I bump headlong into the Bon Marché, closed for Sunday. The Glâneur rears her scavenging head as I note the special-edition flamingo wallpaper in the dumpster, unreachable due to jagged sheets of broken glass around it. I am suddenly exhausted, and head down the steps to Sevres Babylon.
A sketch book page-in-progress with treasures found around the Bastille Market and further afield
Brett Day Windham (born Cambridge, England, raised Providence, Rhode Island) is a multidisciplinary artist working with sculpture, installation and collage. You can find the full list of blog posts from her Paris residency here.
(Image at top: Front and Back Covers for Physiology of the Flâneur, Louis Huart, 1841 Source: Gallica.bnf.fr, National Library of France)
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