Anyone who’s been to Paris knows it’s a city for walking. The very few times I’ve actually been in a car there, things just haven’t felt quite right. The metro is fabulously efficient and has a (very) rustic charm of its own, and there’s much to be said for jumping on a bus to see the city from another angle, but there’s nothing quite like setting out on foot in Paris with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
A good friend once told me that in her quest to discover Paris, she would get off the metro at a stop she’d never been to before and explore. I thought it was such a good idea I started to do the same thing. No big touristy stops (au revoir Concorde, Tuileries, Cité, Châtelet), but smaller ones you might never use otherwise (bonjour St Georges, Botzaris, Lamarck Caulaincourt, Notre Dame de Lorette, La Tour Mauberg). I would get off the train in the middle of a journey home, simply because I had never heard of the stop before. I would leave my well-thumbed Paris pratique map deep in my bag, abandon any attempt to keep my bearings and just wander. Sometimes I would happen upon a lovely spot, forget where I’d seen it and never be able to find it again. But that’s ok. In a world where you can bring virtually anything up on a computer screen in seconds, I think there’s something charming about not being able to enter those places into Google Maps and click street view. They exist only in my memory, and I prefer it that way.
I always associate my visit to the musée Gustave Moreau with that feeling of discovery when exploring Paris. There is something so private and secretive about the unassuming little museum, tucked away in a small street just up from the Trinité cathedral (and metro, if the wanderers among you are taking notes). Even on a Saturday afternoon, I don’t remember many people being there at all. There was no street noise, no queue for tickets, no bustling crowd elbowing for space. It was peaceful, quiet, a sanctuary.
The museum has several rooms on the lower floors dedicated to Moreau’s apartments, with some biographical material. If you are a fan of Moreau himself you will not be disappointed here. However the true attractions of the museum are the two lofty halls, located one on top of the other, and connected by a wonderfully decadent spiral staircase. These halls, filled with brilliant natural light, are strung floor to ceiling, salon style, with paintings and drawings of all sizes. And I mean of all sizes. Some of the canvases are gigantic, and more than a few of them will have you staring.
Moreau must have been a tortured fellow; his art is populated by sinister figures, darkly sexual scenes, surreal compositions and a whole lot of nudity and violence. His work is shadowy and menacing. And much of the material on display is in fact unfinished, or appears so. But it is also beautiful, and all the more intriguing for its strangeness.
Moreau, Gustave. Poète mort porté par un Centaure (Dead Poet Carried by a Centaur), c. 1890
After our visit, my friend and I decided not to head home via the same metro stop, but to stroll up to the next one, St Georges (where I took the banner photo for the blog). Yet from there we kept walking, past Pigalle and Abbesses, all the way up the hill to Lamarck Caulaincourt, at the top of Montmartre. We traversed the 9th and 18th arrondissements just to get the train back south. It was a long-winded and impromptu detour, but one of my favourite meanderings of all.