Tuesday, October 21, 2008


For some strange and unknown reason the thought of spending my afternoons meandering around famous museums of fine art has never seemed very appealing to me. As far as I was concerned, no specific work of art could be more important or breathtaking than gaining an actual life experience such as physically climbing up the ridiculously steep hillside to the very top of Croix Rousse during sunset in order to look out over the city known as Lyon. Not to mention, with Google at my fingertips (I finally, officially have actual Internet access in my residence, and it feels wonderful), I could see those works of art at any time of day! I could have the same exact experience without needing to waste time on traveling and standing in lines or struggling with a French to English dictionary in order to translate the words describing how the piece was actually constructed. Of course, this isn’t to say I thought fine art museums were useless. On the contrary, they had a very distinct use to safeguard the original work of art, but that was all.

Well, once again, France has proven my original inclinations and assumptions wrong. This past weekend, our study abroad group took an overnight trip to the second largest city in France: Marseille. Marseille is an absolutely breathtaking place. In fact, I would even venture as far as stating that it is far more beautiful than Lyon, but on a whole, not as clean or safe. Of course, Marseille has other compelling qualities too. Its coastline is located right on the Mediterranean Sea, and the city itself is rich in Roman, African, and Middle Eastern influence. For example, the architecture of Notre Dame de la Garde brought up numerous thoughts of Egypt in my mind because the church was actually striped with black and white stones! Even the local train station has two large statues of African lions guarding its pedestrian entrance.

While in Marseille, our professor took us to an abundance of locations and attempted to allow us the full experience of this exquisite area. We were able to go down to the sea front, see the horizon line, taste the salty water, and dance among the waves. We ate dinner on the heated terrace of a very expensive restaurant and were all encouraged to try Marseille’s famous Bouillabaisse (a soup made out of an array of different fishes). We took a petit train tour, which allowed us to view the entire city from the height of the Notre Dame de la Garde and gave us some great facts concerning the origins of the area. We even had time to rest at a few local cafés and observe the people, animals, sights, sounds, smells, etcetera. However, she also wanted us to attend a very particular exhibit of works produced by both Van Gogh and Monticelli that were being shown at the Centre de la Vieille Charité.

When Wendy suggested this idea, my immediate reaction was one of deep distaste. There was so much more we could be actually experiencing! Why would she ever want to drag us to a boring art museum? Of course, since many of the other girls were interested and attendance of the museum could be added into our Experiencing The Arts curriculum, we went.

Even after getting my ticket and walking through the first doors, I was not impressed, but I knew I had to give it a chance. It was an opportunity to experience something new, albeit boring (or so I thought at the time), but new. When I finally made my way up to the first work of art, a self-portrait of Van Gogh, I knew I’d been wrong. I discovered that art was so much more than those pictures in the history books make it out to seem. They don’t do the real work any justice. The real work has a texture and a grain to it. It has color that is vibrant and a venire that makes it gleam in the light. Some pieces look better from an angle. Some are clearer when you step further away from them. Some paintings only truly give their full affect when you’re so close to them you feel as though you can smell them. Paintings are beautiful.

As I made my way through the maze of images that had become so much more in mind and enveloped all of my senses, I found myself comparing the works. I stopped solely decided whether or not I liked them, and I started really taking them in and taking them apart. I began to recognize which images were Monticelli’s and which belonged to Van Gogh long before reading the plaque hanging on the wall beside it. I began noticing subtle differences between oils used on canvas and oils used on wood. I started to see how one simple stroke could make or break the flow of a painting no matter what color it was. I began to truly appreciate the art.

Unknowingly, I was the last member of my group to exit the museum, and I wasn’t ready to go when I reached the final door! I wanted to turn around and go back to the most intricate works and stare at them all over again. I wished there was someway that I could take a photograph of everything I had seen beyond the image presented in the painting, but I knew that even if photographs were allowed, they wouldn’t be able to capture those qualities. One thing I did determine is that art is much more than it appears to be on Google. Of course, it’s nice to be able to show the world these famous works, but it’s not everything. Those works are larger, life size, and they encompass attributes that can reach out and touch not only our minds, hearts, and souls, but also every sense of our physical bodies as well. Museums are wonderful places. I’m glad they don’t solely store the original paintings without sharing them with the public.

Now, I can’t wait to go to another museum! In fact, I’ve been looking at the scores of them located in Paris and writing down their names and locations in order to suggestion to them to the group. Yes, I’ve officially been converted to a fine arts museum lover… and I bet this reaction was just the result of some evil plan thought up by Wendy herself! Haha.

Avec l'Amour,

PS: This is the very first presidential election for which I am actually eligible to vote! Before coming to France, both Stella and Wendy made it positively clear that we needed to fill out forms at our individual Town Halls in order to receive absentee ballots while abroad (if we wanted to vote, of course). Wanting to make my voice heard, I did so. Yet, as November fourth grew closer, I became more and more anxious and upset. I hadn’t received my ballot yet! What if I didn’t get to vote?

Well today, I filled out my absentee ballot and finally got it into the mail. I was SO excited. It felt exhilarating to voice my opinion and know that my vote was going to make a difference in the overall picture. Basically, I voted for a new president, and if you’re eligible, you should be voting too! With the Internet, it’s not too hard to learn who stands for what on any particular issue, and I just feel as though you’re throwing away one of your rights as an American citizen if you don’t take the opportunity being presented to you. Not to mention, I almost didn’t get my chance to vote. Don’t throw away your own when you’re actually IN the country, okay? People spent (and still spend) years trying to obtain this right in our country alone. Show them the respect and appreciation they deserve by at least voting for our next president. Thanks! I wish everyone voting good luck that his/her candidate is officially elected.

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