One wintry morning, while taking a walk, A and I got lost in the maze of roads behind the Pantheon and found ourselves in a giant park – Le Jardin Du Luxembourg. The murky, cold weather took off some of our delight. We vowed to come back in better weather. And so we did, on a Sunday, several months later, in June.
What a change. The park was overflowing. Not an empty bench or chair in sight. Under trees, in the open, everywhere in the multi-leveled park, people, children, lazing, basking, playing, reading. Enjoying the sun. The focal centre of it all was the big round basin in the centre, which was full with children sailing boats. This consisted of pushing a boat with a long wooden stick and then running to the opposite end to receive it and start all over again.
A had a go at the boats with N’s kids, while N and I lazed around. The kids had kicked up a veritable storm screaming bateaux, bateaux as loudly as their little voices were able to (pretty loudly, I’d say)!
A tried to help them. But they had firm ideas of their own. Instead of giving the boat a firm push on the prow, they beat at it randomly so that soon both of them(the boats) were considerably battered and lay on their side instead of floating. Tiring of it, they decided to go in for some one else’s boat – a decision not very favourably looked upon by the owners!
We did return a few times more but never on a weekend for the express purpose of lazing around in good weather, even though it was quite close from where we then lived. Instead, we always came with guests, pointing out the finer details of the park, interesting places to photograph – the statue of pan, the famous fountain, the Senate which is housed within the garden itself.
September, last year, in the metro, a publicity poster caught my eye. That of Amedeo Modigliani’s l'ange au visage grave; The blue, the red, the oblong face…intrigued me immensely. There are at any point of time 50 to 100 or perhaps more exhibitions going on in Paris (they call it exposition; Exhibition has a slightly negative connotation in the sense of a some one who exhibits, a streaker, a flasher!’). All metros, road crossings, news paper kiosk are plastered with posters or one or another happening, each one more attractive than the other. And yet, this one caught my eye. Later on, I found out that In December 1917, an exhibition of paintings by Modigliani - his only one-man show - held in Paris at the Berthe Weill galerie was raided by the police who, acting on complaints, confiscated several nude paintings and drawings because "they were offensive to modesty", the day before the show was to open. January 1920, Modigliani died in hospital at the age of 35 from tubercular meningitis. The following day, Jeanne Hebuterne, his wife, who was eight months pregnant, committed suicide. I had to see this exhibition.
Since then, this would be the first major exhibition of his works. It was going on at Musée du Luxemburg September to March 2003. Enough time. Somehow, the time slipped by. Aaj jabo, kaal jabo and suddenly, there was just couple of days left for the exhibition to end. And so I found myself on the pen-ultimate day, inside the jardin. I walked about quite a bit without spying the musée. In the end, asked one of the Senate gendarmes who told me Prenez àdroite et encore àdroite. But this two àdroite covering some 100 metres to the musée took me three and a half hours! After an hour of queuing, I turned the first right and saw a little board on the wrought iron boundary grills which said ‘2 heures d’attente ici’. I couldn’t believe it and continued to disbelieve it although the minutes ticked by. Actually they dragged by. I had J Krishnamurthi’s Life Ahead with me; Not exactly ‘read while standing in the queue' material is it? Couldn’t strike up a conversation with others. This was before my intensive French course and anyhow most took me to for a tourist / Non-french speaker and wouldn’t speak other than sharing a sympathetic smile!
We had some entertainment (to break the monotony) when a longish procession passed by. Some Union demanding something or the other (very similar to kolkata…a procession at the drop of a hat, like we do at ‘pan thekey chun khostey’); We didn’t see the procession at first. Just some police on foot, bikes, car and vans who drew up to the crossing of the two bigs roads, used road markers to block a part of this road, divert the traffic onto that road. And then came the procession. And the television cameras; The procession waving banners, chanting slogans went by. Camera men filmed, reporters waylaid couple of them and asked questions, for about 15 – 20 minutes. And then they turned a corner and all vanished, noise, slogans, banners and all. The police removed the markers left. Traffic flowed normally again. 5 minutes later, no on would ever have known that a large procession had passed by, minutes ago. Should this mean – Police are more effective in France or Processions are more effective in kolkata where the effects of a single one are felt for hours afterwards!
The weather had turned cold, a sharp wind was blowing. Many people left the queue half way … but all them were standing behind me anyway and did not shorten my wait! An old woman came up and said in a quavering voice that she had a spare ticket for the ‘coupe-fil’. Was any one interested? Before I could react, someone had said yes, paid the money and left the line to enter the museum. Well, it was not easy you know. I had to first take in her quavering French. Then translate it and then understand it! It was too late by then. All of us (some 5 of us before me) shrugged and said things like ‘ah well, she was an old lady' – the one who took the ticket and 'just as well for her…she was getting tired etc’!!
I finally reached the ticket counter. Yes! I was aching all over, thirsty, a bit hungry as well. There was not much space inside but a fantastic collection. There was so much crowd that one couldn’t saunter, take ones time in front of each of the tableau. The wonderful colours, the poignant faces all went by in a blur. There was one pencil sketch of a village that entranced me. I kept returning to take a look at it. And there were the nudes which had led to cancellation of his first and only one man exhibition, so many years ago, here in Paris.
He would have been happy to see people queuing up day after day for 4 months to watch his paintings! 587,000 came.
Finally, sitting in the train, on my way back home, I realised it had taken me 3 and a half hours to get in and only 45 minutes to see it all. And the thirst and hunger and body aches and the cold. It quite scared me off from visiting other exhibitions. I missed the Gauguin –Pont Avon one at the musée again – a historic one because it was the same musée which had turned down his painting for an exhibition and now on his centennary the museum was exhibiting his works as a redressal.
Since then, I have taken up yoga, and seriously. Resistance berechey. Now I am, I think, ready to take on any waiting line. Perhaps once a month...from next year onwards?!
Glossary French Words
l'ange au visage grave - The angel with the sad face
Fil d'attente - Waiting Line / queue
Jardin - garden
bateaux - boats
Prenez àdroite et encore àdroite - take a right and then another right
heures d’attente ici’ - 2 hours of waiting from here
coupe-fil - literally cut the line, here refers to tickets with no queuing.
Glossary Bengali Words
Aaj jabo, kaal jabo - (Will) go today, go tomorrow
pan thekey chun khostey’ - Idiomatic expression meaning very frequently or at any excuse
berechey - has grown, increased