Paris March Mélange, Part 2 of 3: Une relation bienveillante (a caring relationship) at the Musée d’Orsay, continuing renovations at l’Eglise St-Germain-des-Prés, a bookshop and a noix de coco (coconut) creation

Noix de coco (coconut), the simple name our neighbour gives to her divine dessert


Continuing on from Part 1 of our March melange (medley), we maintain our slow(ish)-paced adventures in the City of Light, from a world-renowned museum to a very personal dessert.

A well-loved museum

Beneath a historic railway station clock, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The beloved Musee d’Orsay, home of France’s main Impressionist collection, was originally a railway station, built for the 1900 Paris Exposition (World Fair). After abandonment and then a striking renovation, it was inaugurated as a museum in December 1986. It now houses artworks from 1848-1914, from the succession of France’s 2nd Republic to the start of World War I.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

For various reasons, we visited the museum on a Tuesday, which according to its website is one of its busiest times. We held to our strategy (especially for big museums) of buying tickets online beforehand (to get the usually-shorter entry line), and arriving when the museum opened.

Even on a busy weekday, I had some time alone with Edouard Manet’s Olympia and, in the same gallery, his equally-wonderful Emile Zola.

Olympia, Edouard Manet, Musée d’Orsay

Emile Zola in his study (with ‘Olympia’ on his wall), Edouard Manet, Musée d’Orsay

In the fifth-floor Impressionist galleries, we visited old favourites, wove our way through impressively well-behaved school groups and finished with a restorative lunch in the café on the same level.

Busy day at Musée d’Orsay –a school group studying another Manet masterpiece, Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

I took my time with Camille Pissarro’s La Bergère, the shepherdess who’s been my dear companion (well, a print of her has been with me) for almost 40 years, ever since I first met her at the Jeu de Paume (the museum that housed the Impressionists before the opening of Musée d’Orsay). She sometimes travels to other exhibits but her permanent home is the Musée d’Orsay. I never tire of seeing her.

La Bergère, Camille Pissarro, Musée d’Orsay

And among the countless works by Claude Monet in these galleries, another favourite which my late husband Gary also loved. After several visits to Monet’s garden at Giverny, we purchased a large print of this painting for our home.

Claude Monet, The Artist’s Garden at Giverny

The following mundane notice is in fact about an upcoming exhibit I am beyond excited to see.

Berthe Morisot, Female Impressionist: 18 June – 22 September 2019

Une relation bienveillant, a caring relationship

Back of Les Gracques (The Gracchi, 1853), Eugène Guillaume, Musée d’Orsay

As Clive and I made our way back to the museum’s entrance/exit, he looked up and pointed to the back of a small ‘half-body’ sculpture. Two young men wearing tunics stand side-by-side, with one man’s arm draped around the other man’s shoulders.

The piece is Les Gracques (1853) by Eugène Guillaume, a double bust in bronze of the Gracchi brothers in Rome. The front shows the brothers resting their right hands together on a parchment scroll.

Front of Les Gracques, Eugène Guillaume, Musée d’Orsay

We were both really taken with this sculpture, the way the two young men stand close together, the clasping of each other’s hands on the scroll and the warmth of one wrapping his arm around the other.

On the Orsay website, at the end of this sculpture’s description (link in French), is a list of keywords to search for other works with similar themes. Keywords for this piece include famille (family), fidélité (loyalty) and my favourite: relation bienveillante (caring relationship).

Relation bienveillante: what a wonderful keyword! Next time we visit the Orsay (if we have time after the Berthe Morisot exhibit), we can discover all sorts of other works that show a caring relationship.

I’m so happy Clive was paying attention and looking up and spotted this special sculpture. What could be better or more worthy than to create a piece of art that honours family, loyalty and a caring relationship.

The oldest church in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded in the year 543 and newly-transformed

On the same day we visited the Orsay, we made an afternoon stop at Paris’s oldest church, l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A seven-phase restoration project, begun in 2015, is scheduled to complete in 2020.

A 1500 year-old church (parts have been rebuilt over the centuries) is always something to see, though layers of history also meant layers of dirt and grime. The passage of time along with air pollution had done their damage and made the interior dark and filthy. Thanks to Paris City Hall and a majority of funding from French and American donors, the church is being transformed, from the side chapels to the roof and the ceiling, the pillars and mid-19thC frescoes of Hippolyte Flandrin.

Arches and restored 19thC frescoes in l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Interior of l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

As with so many Paris churches, this is a beautiful place to pause and reflect or simply just to rest one’s weary feet, especially if you want a calm, peaceful interlude in the midst of the busy city.

Clive (unaware I was taking his photo) in a moment of reflection at l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Candles for loved ones at l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Books at the Red Wheelbarrow

Paris is blessed with many bookshops, and taking time for a leisurely browse is one of our special pleasures.

Taschen bookshop, rue de Buci, Paris

Since last September, I can’t seem to be in Paris without visiting one bookshop in particular: Penelope Fletcher’s re-opened and remarkable The Red Wheelbarrow.

At this outstanding independent bookshop, we stocked up on a few new treats, including a local copy of Janet Hulstrand’s Demystifying the FrenchThis is a gem which is based on the author’s own experience and includes reflections from other favourite Paris writers. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a short, intelligent and insightful look into the country and culture.

Stocking up at The Red Wheelbarrow (taken by Penelope), the best independent bookshop in Paris

A gift from the heart (and the kitchen)

We also caught up with a few neighbours and friends (merci, chers amis!) with whom we had to cancel plans on the last trip, thanks to my temporary back injury.

Our beloved elderly neighbour insisted on making her special treat, a sweet, silky, sensuous dessert she simply calls noix de coco (coconut). It’s a delicious coconut-custard-cakey-caramel creation with a crispy dark-caramel base. She says it’s ‘très simple’ and she makes it for both of us, though I know she also has a soft spot for Clive.

As much as I love the taste and diverse sensations when savouring this dish, the care our friend puts into it — including doing the final, perfect ‘flip’ in the kitchen — never fails to move me.

I know it’s a gift from her heart, and think it’s fair to say we have our own relation bienveillante.

A photo that looks plain but shows the silky, sensuous and delicious noix de coco made by our thoughtful neighbour

Cheers and merci for reading. Next to come: Paris March Mélange, Part 3 of 3: A slice of Australian culture in Paris. ‘You got to talk, talk about sharing the culture. They’re precious words, language and culture. You have to learn the words properly to understand.’

À la prochaine, until next time.

8 Responses

  1. Lovely post, Carolyn! We saw the start of the restoration of Église Saint-Germain-des Prés last year. The progress looks amazing. Enjoy your leisurely time. Any demonstrations today? I had seen where some were expected at CDG and in the heart of the city.

  2. As always lovely……thank you for taking time from all that beauty to share…….

  3. Really interesting post, Carol. I especially liked your inclusion of the info about the sculpture and a picture.

  4. Thank oh for this lovely reflection on our beautiful Paris! I hope we will be there in time to see the Berthe Morisot exhibition! I love her work!

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