Location | Paris: Meet Field School Blogger Holly Brooks

Meet Holly standing atop the Arc de Triomphe!

Tell us a little bit about yourself—school, background, major, reasons for taking this trip, anything else interesting you want to share.

Hello! I'm Holly Brooks, a student finishing up in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I signed up for the trip because I really wanted to experience culture outside of the west coast of North America. Europe is especially interesting to me as so much modern fantasy is based off of European elements. It's been quite the experience to see historical things in person rather than rely on descriptions and representations. As well, I wanted to experience being in a place with a vast history tied to it. It really drives home how young Canada is.

Holly walking the city with Yvonne (Jessica in foregrouns, Kenny in the background)
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about Paris so far?

Paris has been a wonderful experience. I think the most surprising thing is how volatile the weather is. I think it's rained almost every day I've been here, it will be sunny one minute and rainy the next. I mean that quite literally. British Columbian weather has nothing on how quickly the weather here shifts. Another curious feature is it seems all of the stairs here are spiral staircases. I've always thought of them as being archaic castle architecture, it's interesting seeing them in modern buildings. Walking through a city not laid out in a grid is also quite a different experience for me, I enjoy how narrow streets wind off the main path. It makes the city seem more sculptural. I also really appreciate how I can walk and take transit everywhere. I hate the west coast's car culture, I get excited every time I hear talk about expanding the Skytrain out further into the Lower Mainland. Taking the Metro has really shown me what we're missing out on.

Give us some insight into your assigned art work from the Musee d’ Orsay. After seeing the work in person, what struck you most about it and/or how did the art work’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it?

Claude Monet, The Coal Workers (1875)
The artwork I was assigned to research, Monet's The Coal Workers (1875), wasn't actually on display in the Orsay! I've been debating what to write about instead, I've seen so much amazing art over the last week and a half. As much as I'd love to write about Daumier (a favourite artist) and the Crumb retrospective (at the Paris Modern Museum), I'm going to talk about something not really mentioned in art history classes: bizarre art at the Louvre. Boltraffio's Pala Casio (1500) has the goofiest looking cherub. It's floating at the top of the painting in a thick miasma, or perhaps it's a hole in the sky? It's hard to tell, the placement of the cherub's arms and head suggests more body should be visible given how small the cloud is. Which leads me to the next part-- The ukulele it's holding. Yes, I'm serious. I'm sure it's supposed to be a lute or guitar, but the creature's proportions to the instrument make it far too small to be either. I love the cherub's arm placement, its right arm seems to hover disconnected from the rest of its body. And if the right arm is that big, where is the left arm? There's certainly not enough cloud there to hide it! The rest of the painting is much more competent, it really makes me wonder how much of an afterthought this cherub was. The Death of Cleopatra by Giampetrino probably stands out in my mind as the most surprising painting--it shows a snake biting Cleopatra's nipple while she stands there with a coy smile on her face. It's absolutely hilarious. The painting looks good, it's painted quite well. Her pale body is framed by a dark background, giving it emphasis. With her gesture, you know she reached into a basket and picked up the snake (that it's not just a snake happened to leap on her). But it's impossible to really get over the disconnect between what is supposed to be happening and what is being shown. It's a good example of how history was used as an excuse to paint hot naked babes, with the pretense that it's tasteful because there's a reason for her being unclothed.

Today’s activity was at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. What were your impressions?  What will you take away of the experience?  What, if any are the memorable moments for you?

Picture from inside the Pere Lachaise cemetery.
Today's activity was to visit a nearby graveyard. Nancy explained there's a culture of graveyard tourism, in fact we were able to get maps of the graveyard to locate famous people who were buried there. I was surprised to find out this was the graveyard Daumier was buried in! For some context, Daumier was an amazing French artist who worked primarily in lithography in the nineteenth century. He experimented in painting and sculpture in ways that were completely against the grain, predating many of the artists we associate with modernism. He struggled financially, especially late in his life after going blind and no longer able to earn a living. Off the top of my head I believe his funeral was paid for by the government, and one of his contemporaries wrote about how outraged he was that so few people attended the funeral of such an important man. I located his grave. It's quite humble, but in recent years someone must have paid for it to be cleaned up. There's a newer base to it with an elegant fence, black poles with chain surrounding the grave. The original stone is far more weathered, it's pitted and stained where moss likely once grew. The portion of the graveyard his grave is in is filled with ruins. Untended graves, broken and fallen over columns, a sizable tree growing out from a grave with tombstones leaning against it. This is all in sharp contrast to the graveyard near the Catacombs which seems to be higher class, there's a lot more ritzy mausoleums and sculptural graves in it. The only ruins I noticed were posts knocked down here and there, and they would be simply put on top of the tomb they belonged to. Some graves were covered in moss, but they were fewer in number.

New life grows from the old.
Dorothy also wanted me to talk about some of the souvenirs I've purchased while here. There was a yard sale type event in the streets of the neighbourhood we’re staying in, and so I bought a few things and researched their history. One is a dagger with a beaten scabbard. I spent an entire evening trying to figure out what it is and who may have owned it. It turns out it's a Georgian kindjal, likely made in between 1890-1915. The sword possibly came out this way due to exotic item collection. For example, think of all of the Japanese and African pieces that were being imported for their exoticness. Another thing I bought with history to it is a beret with a military pin on it. The pin gives the date 1935, the symbol on it signifies being part of the Foreign Legion 2nd Parachute Regiment. The beret it is on is red, likely signifying being awarded a red beret by the British Special Air Service. While the Red Berets were officially recognised in 1944, I'm left with the impression the berets were being awarded earlier than that. It's certainly something I have to research more.
Exploring Pere Lachaise, the largest cemetery in the city of Paris
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)