I spent much of my exchange leaving Paris. Without realizing it, Paris had become a fixed landmark to which I return from visiting unfamiliar European countries. The novelty of studying in Paris may wear off until only the daily minutiae remains, but the exchange experience is singular and exceptional. I may have become complacent and take Paris for granted, but something would inevitably happen or catch my eye, and the months would pull back to present me with the Paris that I had seen when I landed back in August. It is beautiful, quirky, rude, charming, and full of culture. The weather also helps. With temperatures going to the mid-twenties, Paris feels reborn.
Due to early onset of nostalgia, I decided to visit and re-visit all the sites I love best, and those I would regret should I return home without fresh memories. I spent the past weekend at the Musée d’Orsay for the exhibitions on Van Gogh and Gustave Doré. As a student, showing my student card allowed me to enter the museum for free and bypass much of the tourist lines. For those interested, one of Sciences Po’s lecture courses this semester is actually held in Musée d’Orsay. A similar class was held in the Louvre last semester. I was not fortunate enough to enroll in these classes, but it must have been surreal to learn art history and art theory with the original art work less than a meter in front of you.
Musée d’Orsay is a 10 minute walk from Sciences Po, and has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works. Paintings from Monet, Renoir, Degas and countless others in the 19th and 20th centuries are displayed in the permanent collections of the museum. The 5 euro audio guide is fantastic for those who want to learn a bit more about the history behind some of the artworks. The museum itself is located in a converted train station, and absolutely beautiful. Sadly, Musée d’Orsay does not allow photography of the artworks. I was able to take a picture of the interior main hall of the museum, but it was incredibly difficult to restrain myself from taking photos of some of my favourite impressionist paintings.
Orsay is a relatively smaller and more intimate museum, nothing like the daunting grandeur of the Louvre. Even so, I easily spent 6 hours moving from painting to painting. As the museum closes and I was politely herded outside, I encountered a sizeable group of protesters gathered at the front squares of the museum demanding the government for income equality and housing subsidies. It is an incongruous sight. But Paris is good at this – balancing its rich cultural history with the modern demands of big cities. It is one of its many charms.