What are you meant to expect at the crux of two selves? The hardworking daughter my parents know in America plunged into a French world that has been the 6-month payoff of all those years they witnessed.
I expected a hang-up, a glitch, or a code-switching snag, but as they stepped forth into the world I’ve made mine, I felt so authentically me. My parents’ American accents served as a foil for how far I’ve come in my understanding of the language and culture.
Joining me in the wet early Spring of Brittany meant we had the virtue of fewer crowds and a more naturally indicative experience of France as it exists for the French. Not the least of which was provided by the manifestations, or la gréve protests, livening the city streets.
Avoiding the city center, for the most part, drove us to an exploration of the surrounding countryside.
Starting with a trip to the small town of Loheac, we found an expansive collection of vintage vehicles at the “Manoir de l’Automobile.” These cars, covering more than Peugeot, BMW, Ferrari, and even Ford, told a vibrant story of racing and automotive advancement.
Over 400 vehicles occupied the vast space with enough frames to captivate even car unenthusiests.
A small cider bar and empty restaurant hall upstairs suggested a flooded attraction for summertime automotives; though adorned and posed mannequins animated the paraphernalia-related exhibits in the off-season.
We spent nearly three hours wandering down and through the expansive warehouse floors and could have spent another three comfortably examining the details.
At another small-town destination, Fougeres, we discovered chateaux with its surrounding gardens. The nearly-abandoned stone walls articulated an over 1000-year-old story of battle, Brittany, and building development.
You could feel the antiquity in the air as you stood on pilled rock and surveyed the surrounding town within the ancient village walls.
Green grows from these same stacked stones and blooms in violet color. The sky was gray and heavy, the wind softly blowing, and people slowly swaying as they stepped over paths walked a million times before.
We stayed for crepes and a garden walk after our self-led tour reached its end, and the quaint family-run restaurant filled us with the same quiet calm that extended from the time-worn castle facade.
On their last full day, we began seeking something new from the Roche aux Fees in the farm village of Esse. These ancient stones were a humble site, honored as a remnant of a tribal tomb constructed centuries in the past.
Standing in their simple hollowed coverage, you cannot help but be in awe of their structural integrity. In their presence, standing, rock on stacked rock, remaining through the test of time.
The next chateaux we ventured was in Vitre, similarly unpopulated in the offseason and holding the same quiet gray felt so softly in Feugeres. The chateaux location, adjacent to the towns historical main road, led us to the town’s Christian cemetery and through a few token gift shops where we gained region rings and a small stuffed dog, snowy from the classic French comic TinTin.
Rounding out the night with kebab and half a dozen rounds of pool, we felt full sitting in the sunken living room couch of Chat Noir’s converted bar.
Experiencing my France through their eyes, I felt an overwhelming calm. I felt whole, like the person they raised is the person I am, with no contradictions worth crumbling over. Open and, as always, seeking more.
Though my reason for this morning trip to Chambery is far from ideal, as I sip my Cafe Glace, I can feel my bones loosen as the city’s charm works its magic on me.
So much empty space reaches its body from market to market, from boutique to cafe. Ancient cobblestone polished by the tracks of over 700 years of foot traffic. The light steps of locals trace these ghosts of Sovie’s 1295 kingdom capital, and it is hard to be upset about my little tragedies.
My waterlogged laptop, the bike gear tear in my jeans, the broken teeth of my expensive wallet zipper, and the never-ending soap drama of getting prescriptions in a foreign country. Okay, I am still upset about the laptop, but really, I shouldn’t be.
How many people have trampled over this very spot with no grasp of what the word laptop could possibly mean? How many trousers have been torn from ankles here? I am lucky to have coins to spill from my wallet, and experiencing another country is a gift I will never regret.
Privilege checked for the moment, my mind can wander from red roof to gray tower, awed by the morning mist that enchants Chambery’s center even further.
I can see eras of petticoats catching on the stone underfoot. The same stone clacked by horseshoes and soothed by wooden wheels for hundreds of years. Ivory canes stamp the places in between, and language passes like a human symphony. Moss grows in tufts along pale walls and collects in green patches where stone and cobblestone make their corner, forever.
Amid the regular chatter, my ears pick up on the sound of English from the table beside me. I overhear one woman, dressed in green beaded lace that travels from collar to floor, telling her knit sweater companion that “you cannot truly be yourself in front of others. That is simply the performance of self.”
I have heard this remark before, and though I have previously decided it doesn’t strike in me a complete note of truth, it does spur delicate digestion of the words.
Which me will I dress in today? I flip through endless hung selves in mirrored closet, What does it mean to perform for others? Is the self another? Does the girl I touch from inside count as a swollen head, tracking the movement of her limbs? My limbs. Do I have to belong to anyone? They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what if it’s not beauty but being? We belong to our beholders, to the eyes wandering along scrubbed skin. The eyes that climb the length of our bodies & burn our image in the back of our retinas, just like science class. You- there. The you that is me, the one I see in flipped phone camera, do you see me- some faceless puppeteer? Or is it her you see? Pretty & Confident & Smiling at the lens. The same being regarded by marbles, inlaid in friendly heads. They have seen so many girls. Spent years seeing a teenage basket case and observing an accomplished woman, watching a comic, a sad girl, a girl full of laughs too late at night. Do they mean their words when they purr them to my ego? When we smash our faces together and smile? There is nothing to do but laugh at the other eyes, the yellowed and bloodshot who whistle from mut mouths. Twisting unintelligible words through yelps and howls. They see fresh meat walking- how miraculous- an object they window shop and wish they had the year and money to buy. Even their selves are elusive. A moment changed by the next, but this I know. All staring eyes trace the outline of my back and imagine what lies beneath. Sometimes thin and rumbling ribs, or a heart beating & bleeding fresh and blue, still a lace cage of bone. This I know. I am a woman, shaped by those who see her. Owned by all versions of the truth.
This weekend, the 17th and 18th of September, France hosts the “Journees du Patrimoine.” In Chambery, the celebration of French heritage means that their historical attractions are open and free for the public.
Aside from the buzz of museum patrons and sightseeing families, the town swells with the typical Saturday traffic of its weekly market.
The pedestrian square overflows with vendors of all kinds. Large cheese trucks with flagrant fair, vegetable tables bright with organic orange and local green. Other vans open their doors to hanging meat, and farmers create castle walls from crated chickens. The hens scream through beaked mouths when his rough hands bind their red flailing legs, and I can’t help but cringe away from the sound and sight.
It feels so cruel to shove life into cardboard boxes, even if the strapped and peddled journey leads to a happy home, to a daily life of eggs and stroked feathers. Even if their small life serves infant hands as they are both taught about the circle of life.
It still feels wrong.
Chicks & Chickens
Is there anything worse than life in a box? Strangled semblance of a free-beating heart. The heart still bleeds. Even if you can’t see it. Even if you lock it away. Even if you close your eyes & scream. You will still smell iron, dripping. Metallic nature will lick on your tongue, the veins caught in your teeth. This is the way of life. This is the fate of the delicate & delicate hearted. If you can’t fight & win with bare hand, you are weak. Because words can’t break the force of muscled arms, elbows locked around necks stop the sound from echoing. Words are latent. They slither, poison like Eve’s serpent. Lingering in that empty space between ears & biting after its smart tongue has been severed.
A walk through the loud market brings me to my true objective, the Musee de Beaux-Art de Chambéry.
Entering the former grain hall, its sliding door entrance lacks the awe of the paintings inside. Mounting its three flights of stairs and resting my eyes on painted canvas and wood, I begin to enjoy the quiet beauty of this Savoie art.
The museum houses a small collection of art from the Middle ages to the 20th century, focusing on beautiful renditions of the region’s landscape and religious paintings. The landscapes are soft and understated as the religious works boast gold and violence in their typical fashion.
Among the others, one painting stands out for its subtlety and elegance, despite the hints of violence that lie beneath first glance.
Judith Presentant la Tete d’Holophere Vers Mattia Preti
Draw violent lines into soft curves. Light reflects on faces from imagined source, but the faces are imagined too, and aren’t we all? All our digits & prints just figments of some God’s imagination. Some say life makes no sense without a Him, without their voices singing hymns to Him in the sky. But isn’t that the point of all this? Nothing is meant to make sense, nothing is meant to do anything but live. Isn’t living all the more magical this way? What is living but a waking dream of life? Our dream. Our life. Our violence and our severed heads rolling. Who’s to say that is the end? Perhaps like stars, our souls burst into that same dust of being. Perhaps our faces come home as the earth takes flesh from bone. Isn’t this more magical than heaven? Isn’t nature more righteous? The rivers that chisel rock & the drops that dew our skin are followers of no right or wrong. All they know is stardust. Gravity, the buzz of perpetual motion inside ourselves, the falling and severing of molecules, love & hate stirring between lips & hands is just movement. All the same, as we are. It all gets kinder if we stop straining to know anything for certain. Some things just fall from the sky like rain, all bodies are flooded with dust & some self we named soul, and life just flows, leaving rocks & the rigid behind.
Of my triad of €1 museums, the Bayerisches National Museum holds the greatest amount of intrigue and history by far. At 167 years old, not only does this composite collection’s own history supersede that of its current colleagues, but stands as one of the sole representations of Bavarian history from its own perspective.
Its story begins in 1825 with the death of King Maximillian I Joseph of Bavaria and his kingdom’s transfer into the hands of his grandson, King Maximillian II.
Driven by his promise to fulfill his grandfather’s wishes of establishing a collection of the Wittelsbach dynasty’s artifacts and preserving the royal family’s history, Maximilian II began exploring the developing world of national museums.
In 1851 he attended London’s World Fair, where he was instantly inspired by the emerging trend of nations showcasing timelines of their technological and historical achievements to the public through collections housed in museum galleries. Taking this notion to his own dominion, Maximilian II committed to collecting an extensive record of Bavaria’s royal achievements and history.
Of course, as an 1800s Bavarian King, Maximilian II left the cultivation of his ambitious project to the charge of the Royal Bavarian Director of Archives, Karl Maria Von Aretin. Realizing his vision, Von Aretin succeeded in identifying and preserving the cultural record of Bavaria.
With an initial focus on art and artifacts of the Middle Ages, Von Aretin set out to represent all of Bavaria’s recorded eras up to 1800. This required the king to pull pieces from his Residenz Palace in Munich as well as from other Wittelsbach palaces around the country.
Opening in the year 1855, the Bayerisches National Museum found its first home at the Maxiburg in Munich’s Kreuzviertel. For 45 years, the collection lived at this late 16th-century residence for Bavarian Dukes.
Just a few decades after its 1900 transfer to its current occupation of a wing in Munich’s Pinzregentenstrasse, the museum underwent reacquisition under the aspirations of Hitler.
With a plan to transform Munich under his authority, many pieces were taken from Maximillian II’s collection to serve Hitler’s personal preference and to bolster the emerging museum branches such as the Bavarian Army Museum and the Achaologische Staatssammlung.
As WWII raged on, the museum was forced to evacuate its walls, preserving its pieces while great halls of the building were bombed and dissolved into rubble. At the end of the war, the museum’s directors began restoration.
Save for an assembly of shattered porcelain crockery, the museum’s great pieces were salvaged; and, with the completion of restoration in 1955, welcomed a new wave of patrons.
The current gallery spans from Late antiquity to Art Nouveau, leading you through a layout of Bavarian history that covers all aspects of their cultural life. Wooden furniture and halls, silver cutlery and porcelain plates, ivory figures and tusked candleholders, woodwinds and strings and pianos, backgammon and chess sets, weaponry and armor, sculptures and tombs take you through an extensive experience of Bavaria.
With an eerie beauty, the pieces housed by the Bayaerisches National Museum exude a haunting presence; heavy with the history they have seen, the dark wood, pressed metal, and bright ivory emits somber energy that goosebumps your skin as your eyes graze their collection.
To wake every day to a cross over your head,
the weight of what you can and cannot do
resting heavy on your bed.
To hear the creak of wooden voices,
crying with linseed mouths,
a pale orifice drawn across Wittelsbach blue and white.
Dresser doors swing stories open with their hinges,
obscuring frozen faces with their open arms.
To break sleep, grateful for this wooden metropolis,
no dirt floors or thatched roofs,
your feet cross timber grain
and your blonde hair never sees the sun inside.
You sit prettily, back pressed straight with corset ribs,
elbows resting on that round, splinterless corner.
Eyes locked in contest with the circled portraits,
faces guarding kitchen tables.
The green man sings as he cooks,
pipe kind and warm
he hangs this tight wooden room with the thick smoke
This Emerald before Oz,
he gifts you comfort
Porcelain and Ivory Affair
Even dainty fingers,
white as European wet dreams,
take hue from Chinese porcelain-
imitate from African ivory.
These precious, delicate, white fancies taken
and rocked to sleep by foreign ships,
sung lullabies by sirens, and
polished by salty lips.
These fabrics trekked through more culture
than the white-washed figures
they twist to impersonate.
Here, they are painted
with the thin-thistled brushes
of cleaner hands,
unsoiled by the virtue of the world’s dust.
They are looked upon
by powdered eyes, and
judged down the noses of those cultured
by the blood in their veins.
Here, they say:
foreign pieces- how profound!
How remarkably mendable,
how ready and white they glisten-
primed for European salvation.
Even in stone, our fair eyes are downcast, subservient to the stare of our chisel-toothed masters. We are unworthy of our husband’s and son’s silver.
As our children weigh their small bodies down for battle, the only silver we touch is to our lips. The only iron linked in the gifted chains around our necks, hanging like the noose of a dead man.
But we are not dead, the men and their manly fruit do the dying for us. Count us lucky in their final moments. Who are we to complain?
We are the lucky to lie lifeless in wooden cage houses, where our bodies are used to spawn more militia for death. The lucky to make no tough choices just take the brunt of their consequences; privileged to bear more sons, to break our bodies into breeding and bleeding life.
We, the lucky to dwell in locked stone towers, running our hands through the same locks again and again until the hair catches on our rounded fingernails, until it is caught in our throats like a cat hurting herself with grooming.
Nothing to do but look at our reflection in mercury mirrors. Admire our luck.
Call dark circles our smokey eye, bruises our blush, and bless these lips into a smile.
Garments (18th Century)
No iron cast, but we are cast in silk.
Our armor these iron hips that force distance.
A welcome defense, a delay between you
and unguarding our garters.
Beautiful, in linen and lace, we step
allure with ribbons and
incite with shapes
unachievable without tight breath
and even tighter bones that break our own.
Our eyes droop with deficient breath,
so you see our delicate weakness.
You can take a sword,
swift and sharp,
carving through your ribs.
Would you give the same silent grimace
to iron carving your ribs into a new shape?
Could you swig shallow breath
and not drown in silk chainmail?
You say yes with your simple minds,
and your arms catch our feigned falls,
eyes dripping down our bodiced necks.
No doubt you linger on how easy it would be to break,
On Sundays, some of Munich’s best museums are open to the public for only €1.
Locals and tourists alike pour through their open doors, starting their week with the wonder of great master paintings, modern models, and Bavarian history.
I started my day with the Pinakothek Der Moderne. The spherical tin spaceship by the entrance the perfect introduction to the building’s futuristic feel, reminiscent of the 1970s perspective on the aesthetic.
The architect, Stephan Braunfels, took advantage of the building’s open space. Wielding windows and white walls to bounce and tunnel sunlight into its spaces.
Premiering in September of 2002, the museum is approaching its 20th anniversary.
Boasting four museums under one roof, the Pinakothek Der Moderne displays first a collection of art, second work-on-paper, then architecture, and finally design. Their composite making the museum home to one of the largest modern and contemporary art collections in Europe.
As I walked through the exhibitions, my attentions were drawn to two of its distinct collections.
Design Für Olympia
A million tongues to say the same:
We challenge you.
Wir fordern dich heraus.
We charge at your records, seu sucesso, lou manuia
at your pride.
We are better than your finest.
Nous sommes meilleurs que vos meilleurs.
The lines you ski into this powdered soil are nothing.