Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Free Museum Day in Paris

As previously mentioned, the first Sunday of every month in France all the museums are Free. Free is my favorite price, so I couldn't resist going for the day and taking advantage of the free museums. After all, such a program was surely designed to attract people to museums they might not otherwise visit. The train tickets were not as bad as they could have been, at about 40 euros. If I had bought them a little earlier I probably could have gotten a better price but it'll all even out in the end. Thanks to my carte jeune I think I still saved a good 30 euros or more so even if I only buy train tickets one more time this year my carte jeune will still have paid for itself.

Anyway, after arriving in Paris, I really didn't have a specific plan in mind. I mean, there are sooo many options. I started by paying a visit to Notre Dame de Paris. It's such a beautiful cathedral, and I just couldn't resist.

*Sigh*... It's so beautiful. I just have one problem: photographing the stained glass windows. My photography friends, how do I do this? In even the best of my pictures I still can't seem to capture the vivid colors or the detail I want. Part of my problem here was that I couldn't use my flash, but even still. What settings ought I to be using?

After my time at Notre Dame, which I personally felt was less crowded than I would have expected, especially for a Sunday, I chose the Musee d'Orsay as my museum of choice. Upon arrival one thought immediately struck me: Tanstafl. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Everything costs. Sometimes you pay with money directly, sometimes you pay with money indirectly, and sometimes you have to pay with less tangible items. Yesterday I paid with time. Time and patience. The lines were...long. They kept moving, which was encouraging, but they were long. Before getting in line to enter, I bought myself a crepe and a soda. Crepes are such delicious distractions. Once inside, I really had to shell out some hefty amounts of patience. I hate tourists. Yes, I know that's hypocritical because I am one, but all the same, I hate tourists. No one has any consideration anymore. Everyone is just interested in making sure they get a good long view at whatever they want without any thought for anyone else. In short, people are rude and thoughtless. I can't tell you the number of times people walked into me or bumped me out of the way or suddenly blocked my view by stepping immediately in front of me. There are quite a few people who deserved tickets for their traffic violations.

That said, I enjoyed the art. Well most of it. I was good; I took notes. I went through every exhibit, walked through every room, looked at every piece. If it's worth doing, it's worth over-doing. I liked Degas and Pissarro, but not so much Renoir and Cezanne. I got to see Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night, a favorite of mine.  I loved a piece by Henri Fantin-Latour of Charlotte Dubourg:

Picture from Wikipedia, Public Domain.
Monet for me was hit or miss, and I think it's largely based on subject matter. Some paintings I liked, some I just passed over. You know, when the Impressionists bother to paint something other than naked women, they're really pretty good. I have question for them though: where on earth did you find so many naked women in fields? As a woman with many female friends, I have never nor do I know anyone who has ever spent an afternoon lying naked in a field of flowers, so who are these girls and why do they not have clothing? So much for realism. 

They had an exhibit on Neo-Impressionism, which didn't do much for me. Henri Provensal and Francois Garas and their 'architecture of the strange', a sort of fantasy architecture, was interesting though. They had an exhibit that was labelled something really mundane but I thought of it as Weird Furniture, which is basically what it was. I'm not into symbolism as it turns out, but I can excited about a beautiful ornate room. The Salle des Fetes is just gorgeous. 

Finally, they had a temporary exhibit on Impressionism and Fashion, which was awesome. I love old clothes. I'm glad I didn't live back then, because it would take me half a day just to get dressed, and they went through 3 or more outfits a day. It was cool exhibit, although heavily over-crowded. The main message was that even though impressionists didn't necessarily paint their subjects with an incredibly amount of detail or even necessarily correct physiognomy, they recorded what people, especially townspeople, were wearing day to day at a variety of events. Everything from a dress for an afternoon at the park to a ballgown is represented in their work. They were obsessed with modernity and focused on Parisians, and Parisian women were known for their particularly meticulous outfits. I found one that struck me as absolutely a Meredith dress. My sister is a big fan of purple and as soon as I saw this dress I just had to smile. 

Madame Bartholomé, Albert Bartholomé
Dans La Serre, and the dress of Prosperie de Fleury
Purple polka dots. In the 1800s. Love it. 

All in all I had a great day. My feet hurt and I fell asleep pretty quickly when I got home, but it was worth it. And I learned some stuff about impressionism. 


  1. It looks like you're having two problems with the stain glass windows. When the camera is zoomed out, it exposes for the dark church and leaves the window over-exposed and colorless. When you zoom in you get a better exposure, but the zoom magnifies every shake of your hands and with a slower shutter speed you tend to get blurry photos (nixing any detail you might have recovered with a proper exposure). Oh and flash won't help you.

    I don't know what controls you have on your camera, but two things that might help:

    1. take a zoomed out picture, but lower the exposure from what it wants to do. Sometimes you can do this with a +/- button or if you have a manual mode you can make the shutter speed faster (1/200 instead of 1/125 or whatever).

    2. zoom in but use some form of stabilization (a church pew, a column, etc) and put your camera in timer mode. Most cameras will have a 2 second option so you won't have to wait the whole 10 seconds used in mass family pictures. The timer will keep you from shaking the camera when you press the button. In this option you can maximize your shutter speed by having as wide an aperture as possible. If you have an A-Priority mode you can make the f-number as small as possible (3.5 instead of 5.6) or "portrait" mode is an auto mode that likes to maximize the aperture.

    Oh and a final thought, if you're having problems with color, you're automatic white balance may be working against you. This happens a lot with sunset, because the camera thinks the photo is too red and so neutralizes the colors and makes your sunset photos come out kind of blah. If you have a white balance control (often marked with a WB) you can set it to daylight (a sun icon) or any of the options that gives you the results you like.

    Anyway that gives you some things to try. Hope they work for you =)

  2. You are awesome. This weekend I'll head to one of the churches and play around with settings a bit to see what works. My camera does actually have a surprising amount of manual setting options, I just rarely use them, because for the most part, auto works just fine for whatever I'm trying to take a picture of.