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  • sarastgeorge7

Mission Possible

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

'Time and reflection change the sight little by little 'till we come to understand.' - Paul Cezanne

Today's mission? No, not a Trip to the Moon, but to find my way to the Cinémathèque, home of Top Secret: Espionage et Cinéma, an exhibition exploring the themes of... you guessed it... espionage in cinema. Plus, a visit to the enchanting Musée Méliès: La Magie du Cinéma I’ve been meaning to go for ages but, already comfy in my familiar neighbourhood, I had been putting it off. It's time to put some of my sabbatical learning into play and explore again. I am getting better at finding my way around Paris. I came off Google Maps a few weeks ago, only checking when I travel further away from base camp. I have been mapping the City in my head as I walk around, navigating by the colourful window displays, buildings and sometimes road names. I am working my way through Zola’s brilliant Les Rougons- Macquart saga, so many road names and places are becoming increasingly familiar. His use of colour in his descriptions chimes with my need to navigate using colour and landmarks. Today was a walk into unchartered territory, turning right along the Seine instead of left for a change. Knowing how bad my natural sense of direction is, Google Maps was duly employed. I should have planned my own route. GM has clearly been recruited as a double agent. The route proposed twisted and turned, taking me further away from the river and then back again. At one point, I had no idea which direction I was facing. I felt like I had been blindfolded, driven to a new location and made to spin around on the spot several times. This moment was not unlike the recent trip to Versailles, where my spidey senses got jammed, and I put us on the wrong train home, heading further away from Paris. However, today I was reminded that trying a new direction can break the routine, refresh your thinking and expose you to new sights and sounds. Why had it taken me this long to walk this way? (No, not a reference to Mr Teabag.*) Less than five minutes from my front door, I stumbled into some beautiful gardens that run along the edge of the Seine and are the home of the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air. Six weeks in Paris and I had no idea it was there! At 10 am, it was a haven of calm (nothing seems to get going before 10), so I found a sunny bench to pause and enjoy my croissant. As I sat, surrounded by Paris pigeons, wondering why you don’t see sparrows scavenging for crumbs anymore, one sad-looking pigeon left its group and limped over towards me. Feeling sorry for the little fella, I dropped a generous morsel of my buttery pastry onto the ground. Within seconds, a wild battle ensued; a maelstrom of beaks and wings: and the limping pigeon suddenly regained full use of both legs. Duped! What happened to the limp Agent Pigeon? I had the last laugh when a triumphant chirrup sounded behind me and a cheeky little sparrow swooped in, grabbed the crumb, which was almost as big as its head, and scarpered just as quickly as it had arrived. It turned out to be a day of quirky coincidences. While playing out my own little spy drama in my head during the convoluted walk to the Cinémathèque, I took photos of sights that caught my eye. It is only when I looked back later I saw an accidental theme which also chimed with the Musée Méliès and my blog posts- that of reflections.

After a quick stop to get a photo of the Johnny Hallyday sculpture and curse my glasses, the third pair to lose an arm, I arrived at my location Top Secret was an exciting dive into the intriguing world of espionage, looking at its evolution in film, setting it against cultural and political developments from 1913 to the present day and exploring the role of cinema as an instrument of propaganda. On display were film clips, original posters, costumes, gadgets, filming accessories, archives, and works of art. There was also a section dedicated to the sexist representation of women spies in film. The whole exhibition offered a moment to live out my spy film fantasies.

I was a little concerned, however, about the woman I ended up tailing., She spent ages reading up on secret weapons taking photos of the lipstick gun, the spy make-up tips, the shoes with secret spikes and every method of poisoning someone. I had to wait ages before I got a look in.

Having learned about Marie Antoinette’s cypher only a few days earlier, it was another coincidence to see a section on coding, including an original enigma machine.

And while I am on the subject of coincidences, I was struck by an original Andy Warhol picture of Mata Hari (having visited an Andy Warhol exhibition when I first arrived in Paris and running across his pictures in other museums), the fact that I was in another Frank Gehry Building and the drawing for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg set design. I had watched the 1964 French film for which the sketch was created only the night before. Oh, and the drawings by Méliès of Victor Hugo and Émile Zola, the two writers I have been stalking (and reading) around Paris.

I'm not sure what this trail of coincidences means yet.

The day's bonus was finding the Musée Méliès in the same building. This fascinating journey through cinema focuses on Méliès and his use of magic and science (and glass and mirrors) to give birth to new images, the likes of which had not been seen before. With 300 machines, costumes, posters, drawings and models rubbing shoulders with nearly 150 photographs and films by Méliès, including some rare ones, it’s the story of how the director of A Trip to the Moon become one of the most inventive and prolific filmmakers. The Scorsese film Hugo plays homage to Méliès, the father of modern cinema, when the automaton (seen in the first image below) draws the iconic image from Méliès film.

'What is the man in our time who could live without magic, without a little dream?' -Georges Melies The real treat was watching Méliès 1902 film 'Le Voyage dans la Lune' on the big screen, knowing now how Méliès created his effects. It really was a fabulous day out. I guess I did go to the moon after all. Three hours later, I emerged into the sunshine to walk back, sans Google, the easy way - directly over the bridge opposite. Then I undertook a spot of flânerie and followed the Seine home.

I stopped in the sculpture park on the way back just as the mid-afternoon activities started, and the city started to swing into life. No longer quiet, it was a riot of music, dance and sport, each activity assaulting my ears as I walked from the tango to the line dancing, the Tai Chi to the dog playground. The park was heaving and this little film (my first impromptu attempt to make a film and add music) sums up the vibe.

In just 14 days, I will be headed back home. I have started to reflect on what that means and the changes ahead when I return. There is so much I hope to take back and use in my daily life. Maybe not my daily éclair, croissant and café, but some updated habits and perspectives on the world. A future mission is to capture those thoughts. This blog is something for me to reflect on when I slip back into the UK groove and to remind myself of this unique time. It's been lovely to share some of this experience with those who have visited in person and those who are watching from afar. I hope to share thoughts on what I have gained from the sabbatical before I leave. But there are still two weeks left and plenty to discover. And that's just Paris.

*Monty Python

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