I’m back home from Paris, healthy and overflowing with gratitude. It’s a long way from The Lancaster Hotel on Rue de Barri to room 55 at MD Anderson’s Mayes Clinic, but I’m fortunate to have access to both. Despite an ATM machine eating my bank card half-way through the trip, the experience exceeded my expectations – which included the possibility of an emergency room visit should I develop a fever above 100.5, per MD Anderson’s instructions. My expectations did not include:
- Being wowed by the Frank Ghery designed Louis Vuitton Foundation building almost as much as the Icons of Modern Art Exhibition consuming four floors
- Experiencing two museums a day (Vuitton Foundation/Picasso Museum; Pompidou/Grand Palais; Musee L’Orangerie/Louvre)
- Attending the American Church in Paris on Sunday morning with childhood friend Jonathan Arnold, or
- Wandering the American Paintings of the 1930’s exhibit at Musee de L’Orangerie with Jonathan’s partner, Stephen Soba – an 18-year veteran of The Whitney Museum and excellent tour guide.
One of many serendipitous moments occurred at the Grand Palais’ Mexique: 1900-1950, the largest exhibit of Mexican art in 60 years. I decided to go at the last minute on Saturday night and walked up asking where to buy tickets. Through the kindness of an English-speaking patron, the guard explained that the two-hour wait, combined with the closing time in two hours, meant I wasn’t getting into this show. Five seconds later, a mom with two little girls approached the same guard and asked what they should do with their extra ticket. Inexplicably I found myself bypassing the serpentine line and walking straight into the Grand Palais with Claire and her two daughters, Louisa and Clementina. I scribbled their address on the back of a museum guide so I could send a thank you/care package before my art angels disappeared into the show that would introduce me to Mexican artists beyond Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
In addition to enjoying a well-curated exhibit depicting Mexican patriotism and culture, I also learned about the vital role Paris played in the development of Mexican artists during this period. Rivera lived in Paris from 1913-1917 and was greatly influenced by Picasso and Cubism; Nahui Olin (with whom I’m twinning in the top photo) was born and educated in France; and Kahlo exhibited in a local gallery’s 1939 Mexique show, at which time she sold to the Louvre its first work by a 20th century Mexican artist.
The painting that resonated most deeply with me was at the Louis Vuitton Foundation. In a study for the 1908 piece L’Amitie (below left), Picasso worked out his vision for the painting’s proportions, colors, lines, etc. On the right we see the end result, purchased by Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin, whose 130 masterpieces loaned from The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg comprise this exhibition. The Russian industrialist was an early collector of Picasso, having been introduced to the artist by Matisse, whom he also befriended and supported. Shchukin took a risk investing in Picasso’s Cubist works when Neo-Classical and Romantic themes prevailed at the turn of the twentieth century. However, Shchukin said of Picasso, “I am sure he is right and not me” and eventually amassed 50 drawings and paintings by the artist he referred to as “that enfant terrible of the contemporary.”
The evolution of Picasso’s L’Amitie from study to masterpiece caught my eye. The two works are hung on adjacent walls, so I walked back and forth several times to confirm my observation and its congruence with my cancer experience thus far. In the study, the quite busty woman in the foreground presents demarcated fingers on her prominent hand saddled with a metaphorical burden. The tear falling from her left eye is broad and triangular. For me, the completed piece is a more accurate depiction of friendship. Here, the same woman’s hand turns into a block with which she would fumble to accomplish anything. I also lack the ability to help myself at times, as well as a voice to articulate what I need. And tears (pictured as a sharp, diagonal line in the completed piece) I shed are not over the broad diagnosis and treatment plan, but are more acute and in response to specific issues, such as fatigue and aches each Thursday/Friday. In both pieces, the friend walks alongside from behind, offering physical support with arms and hands, as well as whispers of encouragement. In the finished piece, the friend sinks farther back in the shadows just as my friends quietly go about meeting our family’s immediate needs and my felt ones by sending notes and gifts and posting support on Instagram and Facebook.
The trip’s pièce de résistance revolved around a divine request I made while walking back to the hotel from the Grand Palais on Saturday night. Reflecting, the logistics supporting the trip fell together so beautifully, Lauren and I made great traveling partners and my health stayed strong. Taking in the Champs-Élysées – Eiffel Tower to my left, Arch de Triumph straight ahead – I prayed, “God, I don’t know if ladybugs exist on this side of the world, but that would be a fun cherry on top.” (See hyperlink for the backstory.) Two days later, after saying goodbye to the driver whom sorority sister Melanie Cox Fish arranged to take me to Charles de Gaulle as a gift, I fumbled with bags and my mom’s full-length coat as I passed the Hermés window in the duty free area. And here’s what I saw:
I will never understand why Hermés chose to include a cheesy, stuffed ladybug in its window, but it reminded me that I am seen, heard and cared for in big and small ways. Vive la France, unexpected grace and improving health – one chemo treatment at a time.
A few images from the trip…