Musée d’Orsay

I remember the first time I went to the Musée D’Orsay in Paris in staggering detail. I was 19 and studying for the summer in Pocé sur Cisse, a tiny village in the Loire Vally southwest of France. I remember running around (well not running but I probably would have if it was permitted) and turning corners and saying “holy crap!” every two minutes because I had stumbled upon yet another masterpiece that I had seen pictures of but when faced with the real things it made my heart skip a beat. All those Degas? Picasso? Monet? Manet? Toulouse Lautrec? I was in heaven.

Edgar Degas, Après le bain, femme s'essuyant la nuque, 1898. Love love love this pastel almost more than life itself.

During that same trip I also went to the Musée Marmottan Monet, which is basically a whole museum with Monet’s paintings. Incredible. We were there just before closing time and I had a room to myself where 8 enormous water lilly paintings stood, painted during various stages of Monet’s slip into blindness. I just sat there for 40 mins in awe. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

I just cannot get over the purples in this painting – they actually shimmer! I know everyone says that these things are even more incredible in real life, but you can never really understand how true that is until you can actually see it for yourself. I want to stay here another hour just breathing in Monet’s colors. These are what paintings are supposed to be about, supposed to make you feel. Art needn’t be about exact details or complete abstraction and dilution, but a comfortable, smudged middle ground. More about color and feeling than reproduction or shock value. I feel like I’m right at home here in Paris. I can’t believe I have this whole room to myself! In what lifetime did I ever think this was plausible! I’m surrounded by some of the most beautiful things on earth, the originals, and nothing is here to interrupt me but the closing of the museum. They’re going to have to kick me out of there, I swear.

Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1916-1919

At that point in my life my world revolved around throwing myself into the big feather bed that is language and literature and art and just rolling around in it. My journal at the time consisted of sketches of statues, quotes from surrealist poets in French and Spanish, entry tickets to museums, and lots and lots of “feelings.” Reading through all that always makes me smile, and I love peeking through those pages and seeing the creativity I once allowed to let loose and run rampant. I would write things like:

So is anyone going to care if I pick up and go walk around the world? Stay places where I stick out like a sore thumb with my bandana, backpack and blue eyes, speak an accented version of three or four languages, sit around all day looking, just looking, and then drawing and writing and letting music flow in me and around me, real or imagined. With headphones on one has a different inner monologue, tends to look at the world as from in a bubble. The toddler’s game of “you can’t see me” when they put their hands over their eyes applies. The world moves by as if on a treadmill, and there you are – you’re found yourself stuck up on a rock, well maybe not stuck there, but certainly percherd up there thinking that voilà, I’ve found the only place in the world where time and culture and stupid fuckers with access codes to nuclear weapons can’t affect me in any way.

To put that last bit into context it was mid-2002 and I was still reeling from the September 11th attacks, how it affected my family, and the subsequent war(s) that resulted. Anyway. The next passage in my journal is all about how I “have more defined lines and angles” then compared to when I was 16 and how it’s a result of “stress and cynacism and depression and heartbreak.” Ha! 19 year old Petunia had a lot to learn. But that first passage? It gives me hope in a lot of ways. The answer to the question written there is obviously “no,” and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to answer it. But it reminds me that it is possible to savor life wholeheartedly, and that I should do so.

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About Petunia

She wore rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes And I knew without asking she was into the blues She wore scarlet begonias tucked into her curls I knew right away she was not like other girls ~The Grateful Dead
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