Recently I traveled to Paris with my daughter and sixteen year old granddaughter. It was their first visit to France. During our week’s stay we toured many of the major sites of the “City of Lights” and nearby areas. The Palace of Versailles, Monet’s home and gardens at Giverny, the Musee D’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sacre Coeur…each place revealed fascinating stories and a historical presence that awakened the imagination and heart.
I have explored nearly every region of France during the past twenty or so years. I admit it’s my favorite country on earth and French culture, the people, and their history continue to inspire and inform my life. However, the journey I’ve just returned from was especially blessed. I saw Paris through the eyes of my beloveds as they witnessed the treasures, byways, and beauty of the ancient city for the first time.
It was comforting to once again fall into the pace of French daily life. Meals and restaurant service move to a slower tempo and rhythm than at home. There’s no proprietary interest for “turning tables” to make a profit. Rather, a meal is thoughtfully prepared and served as a gift to be savored, enjoyed, and enlivened with heartfelt conversation.
Likewise, the concept of “to go” with regard to coffee and meals is a rarity to the French and their way of life. A cafe au lait is an invitation to pause to take a breath and once again “savor” life’s simple pleasures. Cafe life encourages one to slow down, to become fully present to simply enjoy being alive. It’s no wonder so many artists and writers have been inspired by life in Paris or other towns and villages in France. Read Hemingway’s, A Moveable Feast, to experience an exuberant taste of Paris post World War I.
My daughter, granddaughter and I embraced the many delights for the senses that are unequivocably French including: the visual array of Grande Epoche architecture and works of art, the delicate unforgettable taste of rose macarons, the musky fragrance of smoky incense during vespers within the heart of Notre Dame, the musical sound of daily greetings of “Bonjour,” and the touch of the spring breeze as it skimmed across the nearly overflowing Seine River.
On a personal note, it was the human connection that held the most intensity. I felt a previously unencountered mystery within the intrinsic beauty of the people and their cultural mores. Spiritually, the masterpieces by Da Vinci, Monet, Degas, and Bougerau held new found meaning and messages that stirred my soul.
At the Louvre Museum we visited the Greek Sculpture wing, a cathedral of another kind. It is truly a sacred place, resplendant with stunning glimpses into the ancient world through the astonishing collection of stone and marble angels and demons, gods and goddesses.
The Venus de Milo came alive through the eyes of my creative granddaughter with her deep curiousity and appreciation for all things ancient. Venus’s story was illuminated by our informative and charming French guide, Aurelie. She told us how the statue was discovered in several pieces in 1820 on the island of Melos (Milo in modern Greek). Like Humpty Dumpty Venus was put together again…minus her arms which were never found.
“What do we imagine she held? How were her arms positioned? Did she hold a symbol.” Aurelie asked.
The ancient statue’s mystery suddenly took on new meaning. Was Venus a goddess? We learned that paintings or sculptures of a goddess always held or depicted a symbol of some kind to identify her particular role. For example, the statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, wore a helmet. Venus, however, is naked without any kind of visible symbol, yet, she’s known to Western culture as “the goddess of love and beauty.”
Venus is also broken, though somehow she radiates rapturous perfection, confidence, and beauty that transcends her physical appearance. Though she is indeed broken, like so many of us, she seems to express that no matter how fragmented we may be, no matter how arduous our life’s journey, we are beautiful by virtue that we are God’s perfect creation in human form.
Venus has endured and in spite of her damaged places, beauty and mystery co-exist through her metaphor and message. She doesn’t reveal everything about herself, and in this day and time when so many images are manipulated, enhanced, over saturated and sensationalized, I found Venus’s witholding to be very refreshing. As I witnessed my granddaughter behold the statue’s graceful, timeless pose and presence, Venus invited me to contemplate and reflect upon many aspects of contemporary life in relationship to ancient traditions and wisdom.
I’m holding my reflections in my heart for now while I ponder the concepts of mystery, a new definition of beauty, the value of sipping cafe au lait at a sidewalk cafe and the meaning of “la joie de vivre.”
To be continued…