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May 31, 2018

Just Passing Through Paris

Text by Aparajita Jain

48 hours in the French capital ends up being a truly surreal experience

Paris can be experienced best while listening to Micha​el Legrand or The Chainsmokers. But the finest kind of experience is when the playlists merge. Subodh (Gupta) beckoned us to spend 48 hours in Paris and what a 48 hours it was! Our touchdown was way before any hotel would have us. So we spent time in the beautiful stores at Avenue Montaign​e, and a tiny bit of Celine later, we got ready and headed straight to see Subodh’s installation in progress at the Monnaie de Paris.

This is Subodh’s first and largest mid-career retrospective at a French institution. Situated on Quai de Conti — it has been a mint since 864 AD — and juxtaposed within these walls are Subodh’s awe-inspiring works organised in six sections. The exhibition was organised by Camille Morineau and Mathilde de Croix from the Monnaie with support from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Piramal Foundation, Nature Morte and the foreign galleries that represent Subodh.

Subodh calls this retrospective Adda/Rendez-vouz and includes seminal works such as Very Hungry God (2006) from the Pinnault Collection, There is Always Cinema (2008), Two Cows (2003-’08) and Jal Main Kumbh, Kumbh Mein Jal Hai (2012), amongst others. After soaking in the context, his mastery and the outstanding location, we headed for lunch to Alcazar, a beautiful restaurant tucked in Rue Mazarine, just off Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The recommendations I believe are the beef (which I cannot vouch for) and the heavenly peach pavlova (which I can recommend). Next, we stopped at the Dries Van Noten store on the Left Bank by the Seine to appreciate ‘textile art’. In addition to the beautiful clothes, the space itself, in an old home, is one of the most inspiring in Paris…hidden corners full of antiques, paintings, fabric, art make it a treasure.

Full of inspiration, we decided to meet for a glass of wine at the most charming wine bar Subodh had found in his many wanderings — Le Cave des Climats. Focusing on Burgundy wines, be sure to ask for Thierry, the most fabulous cellar manager. The robust red was a spirited start to the beautiful evening that lay ahead. The dinner was the first of three dinners being held in honour of Subodh. We were seated amongst a Rudolf Stingel and Christopher Wool. Through the dinner, peeking at us was a large Lee Ufan. Many courses later, accompanied by conversations ranging from economics to art, it truly felt like the perfect intimate Parisian evening.

The next morning we had tickets for the Delacroix show at the Louvre. The 9 a.m. slot, along with the crispness of Paris, propelled us with much excitement towards the great museum. Already bustling at 8.50 a.m. we were pretty amazed at how busy this institution is; it attracts more than 12 million visitors a year (about two million more than India gets as a country). It’s a perfect example of the power of art and the importance of art and culture as a boost to tourism. The Delacroix show offers a great insight into one of the French greats. A painter, printmaker and writer the show offers the viewer an insight into his prolific mind. My favourite is La liberté guidant le peuple, painted around 1830, depicting the revolution in July which ousted King Charles X. The idea of liberty, and its depiction as a woman, is both poignant and relevant today. Living, as we do, in a world where both are currently at risk.

Post the Louvre we stopped by at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, situated at Rue de Rivoli. The current exhibition is a breathtaking Calder and Koons show….a must-see. And onwards! In order to pack in the most we could we headed to a jewel tucked away on the Quai Branly called the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, a museum dedicated to the arts and civilisations of Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. The exquisite vitrines host crafts and arts from African punishment dolls to Indian Patan patola saris. There is a reason why 48 hours in Paris is way too little to absorb even a miniscule portion of the city’s art, culture, food and fashion and to feed one’s soul.

We walked on the Quai Branly, and wandering around, landed up close to the Eiffel Tower; I wonder whether it’s the monument or the idea of the monument which always makes me sigh in wonder. Perhaps it is the fact that this iconic tower stands alone, by the wonderful Seine, undisturbed by any new developments around it, preserving its grandeur. Done with a day of art and architecture, we proceeded to food as art! Dinner was a performance by Subodh — he cooked a seven-course Indian meal with Guy Savoy (the three-star Michelin chef) for 70 people for a sit-down dinner at the Monnaie, seated all around his Very Hungry God. A memorable moment, in a spectacular setting, in a grand city!

With so many senses satiated, we finally ended up at the final destination of our 48 hours…the hippest bar in Paris, at the Hotel Côstes. A dark and broodingly sexy hotel, it is the perfect end to a perfect two days. So much more to do and see; Paris awaits till the next time.

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