The Musée d’Orsay

It feels like Christmas in Paris this week. The skies are that clear washed out blue of wintertime, and the air is crisp. It makes the inside of my nose sting a little and it sneaks up through the cuffs of my winter coat, craftily finding hidden nooks of exposed skin. I wrap my scarf higher up my neck and tuck my chin down deep. Decorations have been going up everywhere and after dark the streets glow with cheerfully twinkling lights. A pot of caramels is bubbling away on my stove so it’s even beginning to smell like Christmas.

Wednesday I head to the Musée d’Orsay: it’s been talked up a lot so my expectations are high. Happily, it lives up to everything I have heard and more. First I visit the famous Van Gough’s and the other pointillism paintings. It reminds me of my father, and the paintings he did when I was small. Van Gough was always one of his inspirations, and you could see it in his work. I can just imagine him standing next to me at this exhibit: he’d lean in very close to the pictures, take his glasses off and examine each brush stroke. Since he’s not here I do it for him. You see the texture of the paint when you get this close. You see how the colours separate and blend all at the same time, setting each other off through the genius use of contrast and glowing with amazing luminosity.

I cross the upper floor and walk into a world that has my mother’s name written all over it. Elaborate, elegant furniture is artfully arranged as if inside of a living house. There are ornately carved writing desks, bed frames of monstrous proportions and exquisitely upholstered chairs that manage to look inviting as well as over-the-top. My mother would have researched this exhibit in advance, she would have know where each piece came from and something about the history of its origin. She probably would have even brought some kind of literature with her to refer to as she walked through the exhibit. It makes me wish I knew a little bit more so I could write her and really describe the pieces.

Upstairs I take lunch, coffee and dessert in the most unbelievable dining room I have ever been it. It is the original dining room of the hotel d’Orsay, and is complete with magnificent crystal chandeliers, huge windows over-looking the Seine, and ornate paneling on the walls. The staff are friendly, winking and joking, laughing I’m sure at my French, but also my enthusiasm. My smoked salmon sandwich on flatbread is totally delicious, and the chocolate cake is rich without being too sweet. The dinning room is a museum in itself and I enjoy absorbing its style as much as I enjoy looking at the artwork on display in the galleries.

After my pick-me-up at the restaurant I head downstairs to see the temporary exhibit about Parisian fashion through the eyes of impressionist painters. There are fabulous dresses from the impressionist era paired alongside beautiful paintings of the people of the time. I am caught by the humanity that is displayed in the portraits, the sensations seem to leap off the canvas. The names Monet and Degas suddenly carry new meaning.

It’s one of the best afternoon’s I have spent in Paris, made doubly enjoyable by how near it made me feel to my family, even on the other side of the Atlantic.

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