Musée d’Orsay and Ernest Hemingway: Go There, Read Him, Fall in Love with Paris Again

Today is Tuesday, September 4, which means you have t-minus 5 days to get to the d’Orsay to see Misia: reine (queen) de Paris. If you’re in Paris, please go; you won’t be disappointed, and even better, this temporary exhibit is on the 5th floor, which means you can see Misia, take a break and get a bite at the cafeteria after, then drop in on Claude Monet, August Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and the rest of the Impressionists in the d’Orsay’s beautiful and well-curated collection.

Misia is fascinating. This intro from the museum site sums her up nicely: “Misia did not create anything, but, through the people she met throughout her life and her magnetic presence alongside artists of the time, she became a muse, a patron and an arbiter of taste for several decades.” Simply put, Misia was a badass.

She was born in Russia, but married a French man, which is how she ended up in Paris. In fact, she married three times, a big deal for the time she came of age, in the early 1900s. Meeting (and marrying) people of huge influence seemed to be one of her talents. One of her husbands started a prominent literary publication, La Revue Blanche, and though she wasn’t part of putting together the content for it, she hobnobbed with those who did since they were at her house so often to talk business with her husband. She charmed and sat for dozens of influential artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Edouard Vuillard (whose work I fell in love with at the exhibit). She was aso BFFs with Coco Chanel, and good pals with Stravinsky and Cocteau. (As one is, right?) She financed the Ballets Russes, and was an accomplished piano player, but she just did that for fun. At the end of her life, she was addicted to morphine, which is sad, but somehow doesn’t surprise me given the big life she led.

The exhibition is multidisciplinary, which means you’ll have the chance to listen to musical scores, read letters and poems, and see paintings, plays, photographs, etchings, and pretty much everything else under the sun that Misia inspired in the various painters, playwrights, musicians, composers, poets, etc. throughout her life.

This quote speaks to her ability to inspire creativity and I loved it so much I took a picture of it: “[…] she brought out genius just as certain kings can forge victors, purely with the vibration of her being, […]”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll have whatever Misia’s having.

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On a (sort of) related note, I’m rereading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast right now. It’s been years since I last read it, and I wanted to reread it so I can wander the same streets and see the same sights that Tatie and Hadley saw while they lived here. It’s funny how when you reread books (or watch movies again, for that matter) they sometimes get your attention in a different way than the first time you read them, simply based on what’s happening in your life right now. Now that I live in Paris, I can absolutely relate to the first few paragraphs of Chapter 5, “A False Spring,” which I read and reread about 100 times last night:

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”

Wow. I mean, he is Ernest Hemingway, but WOW.

A couple of reasons why this both brought tears to my eyes and made me laugh out loud:

“… there were no problems except where to be happiest.” This pretty much describes how I feel every single day living in Paris; no matter what I choose to do, even the most mundane task, I’m always happy. (I promise I’m not as Pollyanna as that sounds; see: Standing Up on My Paris Surfboard for insight on why I’m so annoyingly happy these days.) And that last line? Absolute perfection. I hope that everyone reading this knows a few people who are as good as spring itself. I know I do.

My friend Jenna and I have a running joke that lives on in text form and makes an appearance every few weeks after a couple of cocktails and something frustrating. (Yes, even Paris is frustrating at times in all of its amazingness.) Jenna sent the text first, so she gets all the credit for her dry, hilarious wit. It goes something like this: “People. They’re the fucking worst.” The first time I read that text I laughed so hard and so suddenly that I had a coughing fit from the rosé I was drinking at 2 am when the text came in.

When I read “A False Spring” again last night, I laughed all over again, and felt proud that we were in such good company with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, who, according to this passage, basically felt the same way we do. Kudos to Jenna for culling down Ernest Freakin’ Hemingway’s beautiful thought to five concise words. That’s good writing. Your next Hemingway, ladies and gentleman: my friend Jenna.

People. They’re the fucking worst.