On one of our relentless road trips my family rolled the station wagon into Philadelphia. There were historical monuments to see, a cracked Liberty Bell that seemed doubly significant to a young girl on the edge of puberty. It all paled when we walked into the Rodin Museum. I wasn’t prepared for the sensuality, the size and feeling in each of the works. They were monumental and touched me deeply in ways I couldn’t explain – then. I couldn’t have imagined that trip would influence me decades later when I enjoyed spontaneous Paris walking tours.
Decades later while staying with friends in Paris, I ventured into the Musee Rodin and experienced another emotional awakening. The grounds were exquisite but the light! It wasn’t hard to imagine the master working there, blustering in his bulk as he directed his assistants. It was another slight stretch of the imagination to picture the beautiful Camille Claudel at his side for the few good years they were confidantes and lovers. I also could envision how a sensitive and extremely talented young woman could be overwhelmed by the intensity of creating sculptures of clay, stone and bronze. Her story is a tragic one but often her early work is shown next to Rodin’s, a validation and an accusation that she suffered too much. Here’s Christa Meola’s, an exquisite photographer, and her exploration of the site.
Such musings are inescapable for the solitary traveler as I was years later on another visit to Paris. My family wandered for hours inside and out of the Louvre. The galleries were a feast, the building another and the grounds, even on a chilly November morning, a revelation. I’d seen pictures of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid and thought it a terrible juxtaposition in the middle of the classical grounds. However, standing there and looking down into the galleries and walkways below was a surreal pleasure. Again the light illuminating the subterranean spaces was a gift.
Sadly it was the last museum we were able to visit on that trip as a strike closed all the major sites. My parents huddled in cafes and took tours. My sister and her husband ventured into artsy neighborhoods to take pictures. My brother and wife explored the joys of the annual Beaujolais festival.
I bundled up and struck out alone on foot to explore the covered walkways from the Opera District to the River Seine, immersing myself in historical sites and classical architecture. One morning, inspired by a surprising view of the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur from a landing in our hotel, I decided to climb the hill into the arts neighborhood of Montmartre and was not disappointed. There are dozens of guides and Paris walking tour sites but here’s a post by Matt Barrett, that echoes some of my adventures.
While I wish the museums had been open, what I discovered was far more satisfying. Paris is a city meant for long days spent walking and created long before planning commissions wielded their positions to make way for car traffic. And Rodin? The nostalgic melancholy of his power lingers still.
Elaine J. Masters
Travel writer, co-host of San Diego Travel Massive.
Travel ease books and audio at: www.Drivetimeyoga.com