Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey
by Paul Delaroche (1830).
(click to enlarge)
I’m an arts junkie. Since I was a kid, I hoovered up just about every piece of literature, music, art, film—whatever I could lay my hands on.

Because I started to appreciate art at so young an age, I’ve got a healthy promiscuity in my tastes, and lack any snobbery about what can be great art. Pop music or academic paintings, cheap industrial design or refined Swiss watches—it’s all good to me.

What I loved was the high you get from discovering a truly great work of art. I loved the familiarity that great art produces in you—the sense that you’ve seen this work before (when of course you never have), heard this music before (when of course you never have), heard this story before (when of course you never have). Few people can remember the first time they heard The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” or The Beatle’s “Yesterday”, or saw The Godfather or Casablanca—they can’t remember because they are such perfect works of art that they slip into your consciousness as if they’d always lived there. As if they are as much a part of you as breathing.

So I went to the Louvre today, the first of a six day exploration I have mapped out—and it was a bit disappointing: I’d seen everything already.

Certainly it was a thrill to see, say, David’s The Coronation of Napoleon in the flesh. The sheer size of the painting made it memorable—after all, all of the version’s I’ve ever seen fit on a computer screen or a coffee-table book. None of those versions could compare to the brilliance and life and sheer size of the 60 square meter original.

But there was nothing novel about that painting, or in fact, any of the other works that I saw: They were all paintings and sculptures that I’d either seen countless times before, or in fact had studied and memorized; or works which, though I didn’t know them, I recognized as part of a movement, or as a lesser example of so-and-so’s work, or as a—

—then I came across Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey.

It was overwhelming. I was overwhelmed. It was like stumbling on a scene I had always had in my mind, yet could not recall. The brightly lit, white central figure—helpless, as she reaches out to keep from stumbling—reaching out to the discrete executioner’s block, which will be the end of her. The grave men beside her, at once determined yet sorrowful. The wailing, duplicitous women. The plush velvet cushion—to absorb the weight of the young girl’s knees, and protect them from injury—contrasted with the coarse straw matting—to absorb the young girl’s blood, and protect the ground from its stain.

The longer I stared at the painting, the more its beauty overwhelmed me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

France’s Upcoming Election Means Euro Devaluation—and a Pop In Gold

On May 6, France is holding its second round of Presidential elections, where the Socialist François Hollande is fully expected to win.

François Hollande
I’m pretty sure two things will happen immediately following the election: The first is, Carla Bruni will leave Nicolas Sarkozy (because everyone knows that a professional courtesan never stays when the going gets tough for her patron).

The second thing that will happen following the election of Hollande is that the euro will begin to fall—amid persistent, insistent calls by the new French President for Europe to spend its way out of the hole it’s in.

In other words, France is about to elect their version of Paul Krugman to the Presidency.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Lunch with Francis Ford Coppola

Le Marais, Paris.

I was walking to my apartment along the rue Réamur, looking for a place for a quick late-lunch, when I noticed the moving dishes at this sushi bar called Eat Sushi—

Francis Ford Coppola
—and spotted Francis Ford Coppola sitting at the window.

I thought, “That can’t be him—that’s way too random. But I sure could eat!”

So I walked in, and plopped myself just two stools over from him, thinking he was just some random Frenchman who looked a lot like the Big Man of films.

The guy sitting at the stool in the sushi bar looked like a random French gentleman: Big and portly, plump of lip, froggy-eyed behind his round steel bifocal glasses, in a light brown beret and colorful but old scarf. And of course the beard: Snow white, and surprisingly well groomed.

Was he him? Nah—can’t be him: I’ve just arrived in Paris and I run into Francis Ford Coppola? Of all people? When, just two nights before—true story—I had been berating my girlfriend for never having seen The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II? And telling her—at length—that everything you needed to know about men was in those two Coppola movies?

Too weird and random to be true.

I’m not particularly interested in celebrity or celebrities per se. But for some reason, I’ve met an awful lot of them—all by chance.