Friday, September 5, 2014

why i love paris (6)

On Thursday, May 29, 2014, just four days after the drawing session in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, I joined the Paris Sketchers crew at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute), an organization that is dedicated to presenting the cultures of the Arab world among other things and whose building is located by the Seine in the 5th arrondissement.  It was Jeudi de l'Ascension (Feast of the Ascension), a public holiday, and I was thrilled about the idea of spending the afternoon in good company in a place that I had always been curious about but that I had never visited.

For this special event, I owe a lot to Marina, who organized the outing.  She wrote a brief and enticing presentation about everything that the Institute had to offer an urban sketcher, noting in particular the "Il était une fois l'Orient Express" exhibition that was ongoing.  I got excited upon reading this, even though what fascinated me the most was the panoramic view of Paris from the rooftop of the building.  A view that was accessible for free.

I arrived at the Institute around 2pm, by way of Vélib.  A locomotive was on display close to the building, welcoming visitors and passers-by.  Nearby on the parvis was a line of train cars, a queue along it, and a longer one in front of a ticket counter that was decorated as if it belonged in a train station.  The Orient Express.  The celebrated train service that connected several cities in Europe to others in the Middle East as early as 1883.  This was definitely a special event.

I found a few familiar sketchers outside, including Marina, and went to say hello.  Most of them, including Tula and Jean-Marc, were already at work.  Feeling the urge to join them, I began to figure out what I should sketch.  Marina had mentioned the view of the Notre-Dame cathedral from the rooftop of the building, but I was still undecided.  It was sort of a dilemma: would I remain outside to contemplate the locomotive, the train cars, and/or the building that had intrigued me for years, or would I go inside this same building to see what was interesting from the rooftop?

I decided on the latter.  And five minutes later, I was on the rooftop, having taken the elevator nine floors up.  Admiring the view where I could, as tourists were all over the place, I eventually laid my eyes on Notre-Dame, in the west.  In its direction, I spotted a corner that was somewhat isolated and from where I could get the closest and clearest view of Notre-Dame.  I went towards it, certain that it would become my drawing location.

I set up my equipment and started sketching what I saw.  Within the two hours that it took me to finish, Marina stopped by and did some sketches of her own in watercolor.  I had only met her once before, on a previous outing, but being up there with her gave me the opportunity to know her better.  She eventually left to go sketch elsewhere, but not before we confirmed the meeting time at the cafe across from the building.

I was feeling a high after having taken on Notre-Dame from such a viewpoint and was largely satisfied with the result, especially since it was the first great Parisian monument that I had ever drawn.  Having time to kill before reuniting the group, I decided to enjoy more of the setting by doing two quick 30-minute pen sketches of the cathedral and its surroundings.

Once the sketches were completed, I said goodbye to the rooftop and took the elevator downstairs.  I was going to show up late at the café.


On the evening of Thursday, August 28, 2014, I returned to the Institut du Monde Arabe without the sketchers.  This time, I did not go to the rooftop.  I was not even interested in entering the building, which was already closed.  Quite simply, I showed up for the attraction of the moment, which I had chosen not to sketch the last time around: the Orient Express.

Why return three months later?  Because the exhibition was ending on August 31st.  And I wanted to mark the moment in a sketch, or several.  Better late than never.

I came back two days later, on Saturday, August 30, 2014, for a more serious drawing.  I wanted everything in the composition: the locomotive, the train cars, the building.  I was able to pull it off, even though it took me five hours over two days.  Two days, because I came back the following day, the last day of the exhibition, to put the finishing touches.

Thanks to Marina, who had given me a free ticket, I was able to visit the train cars open to the public on the second day.  The following are some souvenirs from my tour.

I had a few amusing moments with security officials working at the exit of the train car tour.  They had seen me sketching earlier from their post and had come over from time to time to take a look at my work.   As I came out with everyone else in my tour group, one of them volunteered to take pictures of me inside the train cars with my camera.  So I went with him and had my pictures taken without anyone else in sight.  Precious.  Later on, another security guard called out to me while I was sketching to offer some encouraging words: "You have a talent, you should exploit it ... you have get yourself known ..."  Flattered and embarrassed, I replied "OK, but later", to which he said "Time is running out ..."  And as I was leaving for good, he added "Do not forget."  "What?", I asked.  "What I told you earlier."

The icing on the cake was the moment on Pont de Sully when I crossed paths with Jack Lang, the president of Institut du Monde Arabe and a former Minister of Culture, as I walked towards Place de la Bastille to catch the metro.

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