| Kristina Duffy | 12 July 2012 | The Hague, Netherlands |
A tram, a train, a plane, a bus, and a subway ride was all it took for me to transplant myself far from the chilly, bureaucratic, and, by this time, familiar political capital of The Netherlands, for my first-ever visit to an east-central European city: Budapest, Hungary. Like many confronted with the totally unfamiliar, I made sense of this new city by comparing and contrasting it to places I have already come to know. And, perhaps because it was so fresh in my memory, I actually found Budapest to be quite comparable to the city I had visited just the week before- Paris.
Paris is divided into La Rive Droite and La Rive Gauche, with two islands, L’Ile de la Cite and L’Ile de St. Louis, settled between the river’s banks. Similarly, the Danube River splits the Hungarian capitol in half- Buda on the west side and Pest on the east side-with Margaret Island in the middle. Both are beautiful tourist destinations, capitals, and homes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These labels aside though, the cities’ historical experiences are incredibly different, and the influences of their divergent pasts remain apparent today. While their peoples’ cultures are contrastable, they are probably best understood- like people- in their own right.
While talking to one of the new interns at my office, I asked him what it was he liked so much about Paris. His expression immediately warmed as he sought the appropriate words for his favorite city- “Paris is just- Paris is always changing.” He went on to explain how he’d studied abroad in Montpellier, a short distance from Paris, and each time he ventured into the City of Lights, he experienced it in a new, but equally special way. It was an interesting and apt description to me, as I recalled my most recent trip to Paris to meet my family.
My family and I had been to Paris before, and visited many of its major destinations. Le Louvre, the view of the Eiffel Tower illuminated at night, and, my favorite, Le Musee D’Orsay, provoked our return. But, like getting to know a new person, each street we turned down revealed something new about the city’s personality, completely separate from the major attractions it’s known for.
So, instead of returning to my favorite spots from our prior trip, we researched new places the City of Lights had to offer. I won’t offend anyone’s intelligence by suggesting travel itineraries. Researching places to visit is not nearly as difficult as researching for the paper you’re writing to fulfill your second writing requirement. Just click around on Google, buy a couple books, ask friends and family who have lived there or visited before, and get a bit lost, and you’ll find all the answers you’re looking for.
The exhibit I probably enjoyed most this time around was a temporary (and free!) exhibit in the Tuileries Gardens that showcased the photographs of a South Korean photographer, Ahae. Within the span of 2-3 years, Ahae took nearly 2 million photographs, all from a 3’ x 4’ window overlooking his back yard. The photographs captured the lake in his backyard in all different seasons, the water’s surface at different times of day, and the animals he shares his backyard with in different moods and circumstances. After seeing some of them in different photographs throughout the exhibit (like the magpie- first staring down a snake, then chasing an egret, and later picking tics off a deer), some of the animals’ personalities started to feel familiar. Advances in technology enabled the photographer to display scenes in true scale, without disrupting the images’ clarity. The exhibit encourages you to appreciate nature, appreciate technology, but also to appreciate that the photographer was so genuinely appreciative of the scene from one small three by four window.
Nearby this exhibit was L’Orangerie, a small museum in the middle of the Tuileries Gardens. The centerpiece of the museum is Monet’s Water Lilies. Displayed in two circular rooms on the museum’s first floor that let in plenty of natural light, Monet’s famous murals surround you and evoke the sense that you are in the middle of the very scene he painted.
I also visited a temporary exhibit in the Grand Palais. This exhibit had photographs taken by Helmut Newton, a photographer for Vogue in the 1960’s and 1970’s, who died in a car accident in Los Angeles in 2004. How to describe Helmut Newton’s photographs – shocking? intriguing? uncomfortable? His exhibit featured the genre of photographs he’s best known for- pictures of women almost entirely (and unabashedly) naked, including some S&M-themed photos that confirm his famous interest in such scenes. Whether I could characterize his overall aesthetic as embracing of women’s sexuality, pornographic, or just plain exploitative- I don’t know. The jury’s still out for me. One picture was of a woman’s hands holding a chicken that she had apparently just cooked. She had red nail polish on and wore a clunky, expensive looking ring and bracelet. Sound like a domestic scene with a bit of glam? She’s holding the chicken in an uncomfortably suggestive pose. And to the right of her hand is a gigantic knife. Yikes(!). Anyway, I’ve asked a few different people their opinions. As it turns out, it’s a bit of rorschach test. To me it invites a lot of different interpretations, but check it out for yourself!
Anyway, I thought this was going to be a blog about Budapest, but I guess there will be time for that- another time. Suffice to say that I’ve had a bit more time to come to terms with my recent visit to Paris, or at least the museums I visited there.