Market project progress: Marche Raspail and Bastille

This weekend I made it to both Marche Raspail and Marche Bastille, and the website is starting to come together. The only issue with the GoogleSite so far is that I can’t figure out how to add images/video to the page in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. Other than that, it seems like a perfect platform to use for this project.

As for my experience at the markets, I learned that French people do NOT like to be filmed and photographed. One man working at a vegetable stand at Marche Raspail told me I would have to pay him 5 euro for a picture of his food. What? However everyone was fairly friendly and willing to talk about the food and where it came from, and if I chatted for long enough, give me a sample. I was able to get a lot of footage and photo. My French is sufficient when conversing with people about everyday things, and I have been able to brush up on my food vocabulary, so I had little trouble in that aspect.

The site needs organization and I owe a vegetable vendor 5 euro, but I got a nice picture of some tomatoes.

Tomatoes, illegally captured.

Tomatoes, illegally captured.

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Cupid and Psyche: A moment of “volupté”

I have always believed that art is another aspect of humanity that makes life worth appreciating a little bit more. Art endures in a contemporary society that at times seems so bleak and backwards. Art is what brings color, dimension and meaning to our lives and shows us that we are not so entirely different from each other. Art saves people.

That is, if you let yourself become vulnerable to it and not be afraid of what art might make you feel. Sometimes letting yourself be moved by something artistic can be unnerving, because it could disgust you, make you sad, or make you feel so wonderful that you don’t know what to do with yourself and you end up feeling lost in your own inspiration. Baudelaire would describe volupté as a moment of overpowering wonder that can overcome a person when they view art that moves them. I experienced this feeling when I came across the statue of Cupid and Psyche at the Lourvre museum.

Mythical characters from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses Cupid and Psyche become statues intertwined in an embrace in this 1757 sculpture by Antonio Canova. The statue is captioned, “Psyché ranimée par le basier de l’Amour,” or “Psyche revived by Cupid’s kiss.”

The naked, vulnerable figures are adorned with light cloth that hangs from the curves of their bodies, and they stare at each other with an affection that is ancient and enduring.

Understanding Islam through art at the Louvre Museum

When you make your way through the swarms of tourists at the Louvre in Paris, you might come across the Islamic art wing, which showcases approximately 3,000 pieces of art dedicated to understanding Islam. The Department of Islamic Art at the Musée du Louvre is home to a myriad of artwork ranging from the beginnings of Islam in the 7th century to the early 19th century, encompassing architectural elements, stone and ivory objects, metalwork, glasswork, ceramics, textiles and carpets, manuscripts,” says the Louvre website.

Upon first impression, you may notice a certain homogeneity within the art. The top floor of the exhibit consists of “urban items,” or ceramic bowls, chalices, candlesticks, vessels and plates inscribed with gold, polychromatic patterns and intricate carvings. The main mediums used in this particular part of the exhibit are steel, metal and clay. Although they were sourced from Islamic areas across three continents, all the way from Spain to Southeast Asia, a common material culture is illustrated within these items.

Clay kitchenware was coated in opaque glaze containing tin, then painted and fired at least twice.

Clay kitchenware was coated in opaque glaze containing tin, then painted and fired at least twice.

One particularly memorable item is “Candlestick With Ducks,” an ancient, circular candlestick about 2 feet tall, and crafted from only one sheet of copper. With patterns not affixed, but pounded from the inside out, this remarkably ornate piece was made sometime within 1150-1200 in Khorasan.

Candlestick with ducks, crafted from one sheet of copper and designed from the inside out.

Candlestick with ducks, crafted from one sheet of copper and designed from the inside out.

Downstairs, you will discover layers upon layers of mosaic depicting scenes of war. A stained glass window rests beautiful and untouched in the center of the dark room, casting ruby red and emerald green light patterns on the floor.

A particularly eye-catching collection is a display of urban items like plates, wall decals and art designed for the home. They follow the same detailed style of the other urban items, except they are transcribed with short poems and symbols pertaining to the worship and appreciation of nature. A mosaic of a man inhaling the scent of a narcissus flower rests above an evocative peacock painted on a bowl.

As an American in Europe observing an exhibit about Islam, I naturally had conflicted and controversial opinions about the art I witnessed. In “Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World,” Edward Said suggests that Islam is America’s foreign devil. “There is a culturally determined ideological framework filled with passion, defensive prejudice and sometimes even revulsion, and because of this framework, understanding of Islam has been a very difficult thing to achieve.” For Americans especially, who know a culture that is diametrical to that of Islam, we associate conflicted notions when we talk about Islam.

We see cultural misconceptions about Islam in “grade-school history textbooks, comic strips, television serials, films and cartoons, the iconography of Islam … hence the frequent caricatures of Muslims as oil suppliers, as terrorists, and more recently, as bloodthirsty mobs. Conversely, there has been little place either in the culture generally or in discourse about non-Westerners in particular to speak or to even think about, much less to portray, Islam or anything Islamic sympathetically.” This could not be more true, especially in this day and age, and is partly due to the way American journalists cover matters of the Middle East. As a whole, American media is constantly threatened and confused by Islamic culture and therefore takes a stance of either prejudice, or general disinterest toward the culture.

This is why it is imperative to actually take a look at non-Political aspects of Islam such as ancient art, which bears no affiliation to modern day political world conflicts. My modern impressions of Islam lead me to expect an exhibit of a fragmented, oppressed culture, however I was confronted with a cohesive exhibit detailing thousands of historical artifacts depicting a unified body of people that has endured throughout thousands of years.

Introduction to “Parisian Markets” project (and ravioli!)

Because French food is too broad of a topic in itself (especially when combined with the naïveté and first impressions that come along with living in a new country), I must devote another project to discovering more about French cuisine and its influence. Throughout the next few weeks, I will be designing a website detailing, more specifically, Parisian markets. Think of it as a sort of documented exploration and journalistic critique of the kinds of foods offered at the many diverse markets throughout Paris. The website is a Google Site, which I will provide the link to once I am confident enough to publish my drafts and progress as it comes.

My first market experience was a pleasant, rewarding, and unexpected. After making my way back from Sacre Coeur all the way on the Northern end of Paris, I did not expect any more adventures. In these moments departing Denftert-Rochereau, hunger was the only thing keeping me from taking the RER home. But then something else happened.

Surely, you’ve heard of the word “serendipity,” which to me, means the phenomenon of good things happening when you are not seeking them. This was precisely what occurred as I wearily approached Rue Daguerre. It was about 6 p.m. and a lively market was underway, much contradicting my emotional state at the time. When you come to the entrance of this food-filled street, vendors will wave and gesture to attract your attention with hopes of bringing you into their shop. Cafes and brasseries and bars are humming with chattering couples who face outward at a small circular table with a drink and cigarette. They don’t stare at you, but you can feel their eyes watching you when you pass.

You might encounter a small store divided in half; the right section a butcher shop and on the left, piles and piles of fresh yellow egg pasta dusted with white flour.

Multi-colored egg ravioli

Tagliatelle, fettucini, spaghetti, gnocchi.

I purchased a small bag of ricotta filled ravioli, and felt a slight homesickness for when my dad and I make homemade pasta during the holidays. I could hear the sound of eggshells cracking and the shrill mechanic squeak of the silver dough cutter for a second. I could feel the stickiness of flour and egg yolk on my hands and hear the scraping of a measuring cup against an old, scratched copper tin. I missed the visual of the fettucini-sized strands of pasta being cranked out of the hand-operated machine that once amused me so much as a child.

I asked the man behind the counter, “Avez vous faits ca?” and signaled toward the fresh pasta. “Oui, la bas,” he replied and pointed with an open hand, as if to showcase the kitchen that was now visible with the craning of my neck. I smiled and accepted the bag of ravioli, noticing it was still warm and delicate to the touch.

Fresh ricotta ravioli from a shop on Rue Daguerre

Fresh ricotta ravioli from a shop on Rue Daguerre

If one serendipitous afternoon at a market can conjure such a vivid experience, I am curious to find out what else Parisan markets have to offer.

In all 14 arrondissments of Paris, many markets exist that are often the starting points for world famous French cuisine. Inspiration for the locally grown/locally sourced food movement that began around the 1970-80s in the United States was spearheaded by people like Alice Waters (founder of Chez Panisse) who were greatly influenced by French attitudes about how people should prepare and experience food – but most importantly, where said foods and ingredients should come from. When “French food” is mentioned, one’s mind takes on the ideas of fresh, quality and upscale. So what part do markets play in the city most famous for its food?

I plan to explore this idea on my website through research and with use of multimedia like photo, video interviews and Google maps that pinpoint the locations of different markets. Communicating with the French will undoubtedly be challenging, but just from my fleeting conversation with the pasta vendor on Rue Daguerre proved fascinating and informational.

“Drink it in, your eyes and your memory are full of it”

On most days, I go through the mornings and afternoons on a schedule, punctuated by alarm clock wake ups and organized by checks off of written to-do lists. In Los Angeles, where I come from, there is a conception of linear time in which people are expected to be punctual, work-oriented and always pointed in the direction of accomplishing something, big or small, at all times throughout the day. We eat so that we are not hungry, we go to bed at a certain hour so that we have enough energy for the next day. It is rare that someone passes idle time with no intention of achieving anything in particular.

I was halfway through my derive, sitting on a rickety chair that had the paint peeling off the sides in the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was early afternoon and the gravel and dust from the walkway had dulled my pink toenail polish. I fidgeted and occupied myself with a book. I continued my wandering out through the Saint-Michel entrance of the jardin. I walked for a few blocks and came across a small brasserie. I ordered a cheese plate and a glass of champagne. I sat facing outward, watching crowds pass by in the Paris heat. It wasn’t until I started eating that I began to experience what it meant to be a flâneur.

Baudelaire describes a flâneur as “the passionate spectator, [for whom] it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world and yet to remain hidden from the world.” The flâneur is a”lover of universal life [who] enters into the world as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.” He is the “mirror to the crowd itself or a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life.” Immersed in a light afternoon meal – across from those apartments with iron balconies that intertwine together, and those flower pots that overflow with pink and red carnations – I began to understand this concept.

Whenever I try a new food, my first instinct is to critique it in some way. Are the ingredients a good quality? Are the vegetables prepared in a way that preserves their rightful flavor and texture? In its combined parts, is the dish a balanced, cohesive, thoughtful creation that is worth what I’m paying for it?

For the record, it was Cantal, Bleu d’Auvergne, Saint-Nectaire, Chevre and Camembert au Lait Cru on a bed of fresh buttery romaine mixed with chopped walnuts, golden raisins and dried apricots.

For the first time in awhile, I emptied my mind. I didn’t think about what I was eating. I didn’t analyze anything. I don’t remember what the restaurant was called or what street it was on. There’s a good chance I’ll never see it again, or recognize it in passing. I was lost within my senses and slowed from dry champagne and the humid air. Thus, my shortest food review to date: It tasted really, really good.

My memory of the experience and lack of description parallels somewhat to the concept of being a wanderer, a drifter, a curious and open-minded explorer. I found that a derive is more about taking an experience for what it is and observing life around oneself, and not necessarily straining to force some brilliant, eloquent conclusion out of your mind that will impress people. Going incognito as a normal citizen, when in actuality you are an observer of beauty, motivated by the push and pull of a crowd, walk signs and social cues.

To fully experience a derive in a city, or what Debord calls “those centers of possibilities and meanings” is to go against your instincts to be making productive use of your time. It is to emotionally disorient oneself. As Debord quoted Marx, “men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves.” But to let yourself go, to stop searching for reason or clarity within yourself and simply exist as part of the glittering, wondering world. Allow yourself to know that the world is not complete, you are not complete.  And that is okay.