Cool Haunting: The Museum of Everything

If you haven’t yet been to The Museum of Everything, make sure you check it out before it moves on to the next city in February! This exhibition of art brut, aka outsider art, is housed in an old convent on the stuffy boulevard Raspail. You can’t possibly miss the museum because the signage stands out like a loopy smile in a phalanx of aloof, sand-colored buildings.

Part of what makes the show so affecting is the way it rambles from room to room, from Henry Darger to Guo Fengyi, up and down narrow steps from one floor to the next. It feels as though you are inside one of the artists’ minds, moving from wide spaces to shadowy corners, stumbling and feeling your way toward understanding. Even if the wall text weren’t there to explain each artist’s disability or troubled background, you would still feel their pain and the weight of their struggle in the art. The art is obsessive, sometimes beautiful, sometimes troubling. The Museum of Everything really made me question art -- how we define it, how we choose to validate then display it -- and made me wonder, too, about art’s therapeutic, prophylactic and redemptive power.

I was quite moved by the art, but also very grateful for the café and gift shop’s cheery respite!

Cool Haunting: Musée Cernuschi

As a teenager I lived in the 17ème arrondissement, closer to the banlieue of Clichy than to anything resembling a Parisian cliché. Between my lycée on the hardscrabble boulevard Bessières and my dance school near the much tonier Porte Champerret, my familiarity with the 17th merely skirted its periphery. To me, Batignolles wasn’t a charming square, but the name of a stop on the 66 bus line, a bus I’d take to Opéra whenever I needed a new pair of pointe shoes. I was myopic in the way that only a fifteen year old can be, etching my life with a fine-tipped scribe and never stepping outside of the lines.
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Cool Haunting: Musée Carnavalet

A secret garden in the heart of the Marais. Even under a light rain (as it was the other day when I ducked inside) it offers a quiet respite from the frenzy of tourists and shoppers outside. I like to sit on the benches in open-eyed meditation, letting the architecture and garden’s symmetry decelerate my nervous system and breath. As the sound of cars and scooters fades, I close my eyes and focus my awareness on the crunching of pea gravel underfoot, the rustling of leaves, whispered snippets of conversation…
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“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” —Henry David Thoreau

Photo: Little Shao

Do you feel like this at the Louvre? So overwhelmed by the magnitude of art that you want to wilt like a flower? Or do you arch backward in ecstasy at the centuries of beauty on display? I vacillate between the two extremes, and have finally learned to take in one gallery or school of painting per visit. This can be quite challenging if you’re a first-time visitor who feels pressure to hit the highlights, however once you realize the Louvre isn’t going anywhere, it takes the stress out of the equation. Who wants to live a life with space for only one single Louvre visit, anyway? Pace yourself -- you have years ahead of you to return and continue imbibing and appreciating the collections.

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Weekend Kickoff

When Iya Traore’s professional football career stalled (he played briefly for PSG,) he transformed his athleticism and skill into a new art form: freestyle football. Keeping the ball afloat and bouncing in percussive counterpoint to his poised exterior, Iya performs impossible-to-imagine feats of balance and strength. If you think sitting in sukhasana with a football on your head looks plenty difficult, check out the video after the jump and prepare to have your mind blown.

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C’est Une Maison Bleue

As a child, I listened to Maxime Le Forestier’s song “San Francisco” over and over again, searching for clues. Surely, he was singing about my family’s neighborhood! His descriptions of houses leaning up against hills, of a city cloaked and swimming in fog, the light, the crazies and long hairs playing guitar were exactly what I saw looking out my bedroom window. I knew exactly what he was talking about, but in my kid brain, I figured I must be wrong. How could someone know so intimately the landscape of my American home, yet praise it in our secret language, French? It confused me in the same way that “Rendezvous,” the name of a local bar on Divisadero Street, confused me. Was the bar French? How do you pronounce “Rendezvous” in English? Wren-dez-vowss?

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Groovy French Musique

As you can imagine, it drives me crazy when people disparage French music. While I admit that there are some very triste chapters in the history of Francophone warbling -- ugh! hilarious! -- which country has not birthed questionable pop music, I ask you? Nations in glass houses should not throw stones. And anyway, as stated before, your Yums are very likely someone else's Yucks.

With that, here are some recent Gallic faves that have been making their way into my yoga playlists.

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Cool Haunting: Les Catacombes de Paris

I’ve been thinking a lot about Spanda lately, this idea of pulsation between complementary energies. I’ve always equated it with Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In some yoga classes -- depending on the teacher’s training -- Spanda might actually be named; more often, it isn’t but its core meaning is articulated any time a teacher asks you to find repose in a pose, inaction in action, talks about the give-and-take between ease and effort, or directs you to a delicious savasana after a vigorous yoga session. This idea of a push me-pull you energy is not exclusive to yoga, though. It lives as you in your breath (inhale and exhale,) in your interactions (the squeeze and release of a friendly hug,) and it lives outside of you, too (the clatter of the métro beneath your feet or above your head as you mind your own business on the sidewalk.) As my teacher Zhenja La Rosa says, “Life moves in waves. Everything is Spanda.”

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Sans regret, sans mélo

Right now at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs there is a fabulous show called Goudemalion about Jean-Paul Goude, the mastermind behind so many indelible French images. From Grace Jones’ razor-sharp angles, to balletic and operatic advertising campaigns for Prada and Chanel, to costumes for the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, there is really nothing this singular designer hasn’t touched that hasn’t had striking visual and visceral impact.

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Free Wifi in Paris

Photo: Paris.fr

Thanks to the Mairie de Paris and the Région Ile-de-France, you can use your laptop or smartphone to surf the internet in more than 400 Parisian museums, city halls, libraries and parks. To do so, keep your eyes peeled for a purple oval that says Paris Wi-Fi -- it will be located near entrances or on announcement/message boards. All you have to do is join the Orange wifi network and follow the registration cues (these should launch automatically in your browser, however if they don’t, launch your browser after you’ve clicked Orange.) You’ll go through a few steps to set up a login and password. Once that’s squared away, félicitations! For two hours, you’ll have free access to the internet.

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Cool Haunting: l’hôtel particulier de Serge Gainsbourg

The Seventh arrondissement is very popular with North American tourists. They crowd the cafés on the rue Cler, order what a friend of mine has dubbed “The Spesh” at the Greek crêpe stand (“The Spesh,” or La Spéciale, is an egg, emmenthal, feta and tomato crêpe – messy but delicious,) and generally keep that picturesque pedestrian lane humming year round. Pre-Rick Steves, whose books essentially put the cobblestoned street on the North American radar, rue Cler was your typical-for-the-Seventh busy yet still sleepy enclave. Think government ministries, embassies, and the Assemblée Nationale and you’ll start to get a sense of the energy of the place: sober, quiet, serious.

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