March 22, 2002
Friday! Jummah! We thought we'd pay a visit to the largest mosque in Paris which just happened to be right in our neighborhood. The mosque was lovely, serene, and beautiful. Apparently, Islam is France's second largest faith (five million strong!), which came as a surprise to me considering the latest news about the potential French ban on headscarves in state schools (although the latest latest news is that 'discreet bandanas' may be allowed). Back to the mosque. Built from 1922 to 1926 in recognition of the sacrifice and suffering that Muslims (mostly North African) experienced protecting France during WWI, the complex included a huge Persian-carpeted prayer room, a gorgeously tiled courtyard with a marble fountain in the center, a tranquil, sunken garden, and a tea house and a hammam, neither of which were open.
Continuing the theme, our next stop was at the Arab World Institute or Institute du Monde Arabe (IMA) which was developed to symbolize the partnership between France and twenty-one Arab countries. The exterior looks a lot like a Borg ship because its chilling northern facade is looming and glassy and its soaring southern facade is decorated with 240 diaphragms, steel jaws that open and close according to the strength of the sun to let in enough light and heat without harming delicate items housed in the library or the museum. The diaphragms are intended to resemble Arabic mushrabiyah (wooden lattice-work window screens) but really just look scary to me. From floor to floor, we took a tour of the extensive exhibits, many of them loaned by Syria and Tunisia.
After an extended nap back in our room, we decided to take a walking tour of Marais, a trendy, fashionable district in Paris whose residents are known as Bobos, short for bohemian bourgeois . . . isn't that cute. Map in hand, we meandered through the streets, marveled at the many majestic mansions, and made our way to the Musee Picasso. Picasso's collection of over 200 paintings, over 150 sculptures, and over 3000 ceramics, engravings and drawing demanded a large venue. After Picasso's death, most of his collection went to the French state. And so, the Hotel Sale (named after the profession of its first owner, a salt tax collector) became the Picasso Museum in 1985. We went from room to room, up and down the stairs, and saw most of the collection which was laid out chronologically, from simple Impressionistic drawings to more abstract paintings to kooky Cubist sketches. My favorite exhibit was the La Guenon et Son Petit (Baboon and her baby) sculpture:
First of all, monkey! Second of all, I loved the fact that the materials Picasso used in the composition consisted of materials cobbled together from household items and his son's toys: A large pottery jar (belly), jug handles (shoulders and ears), pieces of wood (legs) and best of all, two model toy cars -- one car for the head with the windshield faming the eyes, the hood becoming the nose, the grill shaping the mouth; and one car for the lower part of the face with the trunk and rear fender forming the jaw. A few months later, this sculpture sold for $6,719,500. Shoulda snatched it when I had the chance!