Authors: Anita Heiss
A Bantam book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
First published by Bantam in 2011
Copyright © Anita Heiss 2011
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.
Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
National Library of Australia
Cover illustration and design by saso content & design pty ltd
Author photo by Amanda James
I boarded my Paris L'Open Tour bus and felt like a different person in my new city. As in many major cities around the world where you hop-on, hop-off an open-topped double-decker bus, there was headphone commentary to tell me where I was, a bit of the history and so on. There were four different routes to choose from and by reading the map for each tour, I knew I'd get a good feel for the city, its size and the layout. Until then, I really hadn't grasped the enormity of Paris.
I jumped on the Montparnasse Tour bus marked by the colour orange, and was immediately disappointed and slightly embarrassed by how pushy and rude an Aussie family were when boarding. I tried to act like I was not from the same land, and frowned at their behaviour. When I found it difficult to deal with obnoxious countrymen and Americans from then on, I'd just turn the headphones up louder.
I smiled as the sun hit my face and we cruised past construction sites that had designer-looking scaffolding and images strewn across them ' ice-skaters, divers and my favourite, firemen. Only in Paris, I thought to myself. It wasn't long before I came to fathom the incredible expanse of the city. It was massive and left me wondering whether I could possibly ever manage to see a tenth of it while I was working here.
I was astounded by the number of tourists, not just on the bus but everywhere. I lost track of how many people I saw dragging suitcases, wearing backpacks, taking photos. I wondered how the French coped with such an invasion, and if the city would look empty without them ' and me ' there. I didn't want to be a tourist, I didn't want to think like one or look like one. And I certainly didn't want to behave like one. Even as I sat there on the bus with a bag full of maps, my camera in my hand and headphones on, I chose to only ever consider myself a newly arrived local from that day forth.
I changed buses at Petit Pont and climbed on the Bastille'Bercy bus, looping around Place de la Bastille and past the Biblioth¨que Nationale de France. At Notre Dame I got off and like all the other visitors to the city, I marvelled at the most famous cathedral in the world: the spire, the statues, the rose windows, the sense of spirituality you could feel in a man-made structure.
I boarded the green Paris Grand Tour bus at the rue de la Cité on its way to the Musée d'Orsay. I got off at the musée and snapped a picture of two elephant statues out the front to email to the girls back home. I went into the museum and tried to imagine what it was like when the building was a train station with a never-ending flow of 200 trains coming and going each day.
The space was large, open, overwhelmingly filled with light. I wanted to scream, 'This is fantastic!' I wanted to share the experience of being there with someone else, and I felt my first pang of homesickness with a hint of sadness about being alone in such an important art space. I knew Lauren would've loved it.
I walked slowly through the museum trying to absorb each moment as I watched French art students sketching sculptures. I smiled at tourists taking photos of each other in front of artwork, just like they did back at the NAG. I glimpsed two lovers cuddling in a quiet corner, and I wanted to scream, 'Get a room!' in my usual cynical way. But I didn't. In my peripheral vision I noticed a man wearing a clichéd red béret, watching me observing others. I figured Paris was a city of watching, some might even say voyeurism, and I wasn't going to complain because I was doing it too. Everyone was watching someone.
I weaved through the gallery, taking in my favourite Impressionist Monet, the Post-Impressionists Seurat and Cézanne, and the great Symbolist Redon. I was in artistic heaven imagining what it might be like to give tours and lectures about the permanent collection there, and even their temporary exhibitions. I wanted to hear some of the lectures at the d'Orsay but they were only in French and I knew I wouldn't be able to follow along.
I could feel the jet lag creeping up on me again and my legs and eyes were heavy. Even the adrenalin rush of being in Paris, and lots of coffee, wasn't helping to keep me awake. Before I could leave though, I had to check out the gift shop: it was a tradition that Lauren and I participated in whenever we visited galleries. Always, always, always buy oneself a gift. And of course, a gift for one's best friend. And so I entered the shop with a sense of purpose and obligation.
It didn't take me long to find the one thing I knew I had to buy for Lauren: a silk stole created in homage to Gustav Klimt, inspired by several of his works. But then I remembered that the warm colours of pink and orange better suited me than her. So I did what any woman with a new-found sense of style would ' I decided to keep it for myself. I then chose a Van Gogh
scarf in soft blues and greens for my tidda. It would look great against her slick black bob, and the design itself was based on different works of the artist. I knew she would adore it.
Although I was so tired that my vision was blurry, I took my time in the store, thinking of ways we might further improve our own space at the NAG. While I checked out their book collection, I noticed the same man with the red béret from inside the museum was looking at me again. I felt unnerved by his presence and piercing stare so paid for my items and made my way to the exit. I stood outside and breathed in the Parisian air deeply. I felt more awake almost immediately. I was in dire need of caffeine though and was thinking about where to go and the best plan to get home, when I noticed the man in the béret was next to me.
'You are a curator?' he asked in English as if knowing me. His pale blue, wrinkled eyes squinted to focus on mine. I guessed he was in his fifties.
'I'm an educator at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Australia. I'm going to work at the Musée du Quai Branly for five months.' I wasn't sure why I was so forthcoming with my CV, but I just sensed that we had something in common.
'I knew it. I watched the way you viewed the artwork: with interest, with appreciation, with a sense of analysis. We artists like that,' he said, with the same sexy French accent as Michel.
'So you paint?'
'Yes, and I want to paint you.' He stared directly into my eyes.
I laughed, embarrassed. I worked with artists all the time and no-one had ever wanted to paint me.
'Oh, I am sure there are far better subjects and models in this amazing city.'
'I want to paint you nude,' he said, as if it was a completely normal and natural statement to make to a total stranger on the street.
I half-choked and coughed at the same time, assuming he must've been on drugs. What would the aunties back in Moree think about this proposition? Oh my god, what would my brothers think? Barry would want to kill him, and that thought made me laugh out loud.
'What is so funny?' he asked, as if offended by my not taking him seriously. 'You are an arts educator, so you need to know about the artistic process from all angles,
?' He was doing his best to persuade the one person who would never buy his crap.
I could hear Caro in my ear warning me and every sleazy line I'd ever heard was playing itself out over and over again. The only difference being that this time it had that
sound to it, and I was in Paris.
I was keen to change the subject and get the conversation finished. 'So you are a local painter then?'
'I am not a
,' he said, almost distastefully. 'I am provincial. I hardly ever come into Paris. I come just for the exhibitions, some supplies and always for inspiration,' he looked deep into my weary eyes, 'from beautiful women like you.'
He touched my arm as if to make more of a point. I flinched away.
'I am interested in how the human body is represented in the history of art. There are amazing French painters and paintings which have magnified and represented the human body in original ways through art. You might know Modigliani's paintings? He lived in France. I think they would be of interest to you.'
'I really must go now, I '¦' I didn't know what to say and before I had the chance to make up a lie, he spoke again.
'I am staying at the H´tel du Quai Voltaire; I would like you to join me.'
'I have to go.' I felt like a nervous schoolgirl and rushed off.
I walked quickly to the pick-up point for the bus and boarded, still in shock at such a blunt offer by a complete stranger. I felt like I'd had my cultural awareness training in terms of Frenchmen, and that I had experienced what I'd seen portrayed in all the films. The men here were incredibly different, more forward, flirtatious, inviting and sleazy when compared to Aussie men and most definitely those in Canberra and any Koori fellas I'd ever met, in and out of the arts.
Most of the straight blokes who crossed my path only ever invited me for a beer, not a naked arts session in a fancy hotel. I planned on googling the Voltaire when I returned to my hotel but, in the meantime, I was back to being in awe of the city, and remained open-mouthed as we cruised down the Champs-Elysées, around the Arc de Triomphe, the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower. It was like every travel guide I'd ever read had come to life as we passed consulates and embassies and countless buildings that looked like palaces, and so many statues.
As I had noticed when I caught my taxi from the airport, I couldn't believe the number of cars there were in Paris. Little cars ' Renaults, Peugeots and Citro«ns ' all steered around the city by crazy drivers. If a light turned green and a car hadn't moved in two seconds, the horns would beep like mad. It was an aerobic activity just to cross the road without being hit or tooted at. I was shocked and a little amused that bumping into a car when you were parking was completely normal. I saw numerous drivers rocking their cars back and forth into other cars until they were happy with the park.
The commentary told me that we were approaching rue Royale, which I'd read was a very luxurious street with shops selling caviar and truffles and other delicacies. Although I was tired, I forced myself to get off the bus because I had spotted something I recognised from the film
' Maxim's de Paris.
I drank an espresso in the famous café to keep me going and headed into the museum section which had two floors of Art Nouveau furniture and objects collected by Pierre Cardin. I dreamt about having dinner in the fancy restaurant there, realising I hadn't eaten since earlier that day. When I looked at my watch and could hardly make out the time, I knew I had to head back to the hotel. Acknowledging my inability to take public transport in my delirious state, I jumped in a cab back to rue de Bagnolet.
The next morning, I went to the Louvre for the entire day. As I stood outside the entrance, I noticed there were media everywhere since Paris Fashion Week was being held at the Carrousel du Louvre, a shopping centre attached to the main building.
The French media were all over the glamour of the major designers, but I hadn't even realised the event would be happening ' the night before I had been too busy watching the BBC World News commentating on the lower assembly of the French government voting to ban the burqa in public places.
As I stood gazing at the French glass icon of art and architecture, I wondered if they had anti-discrimination laws in France like we had back home. Not that it mattered because our own government had suspended the Anti-Discrimination Act back in 2007 in order to pass the racist Northern Territory 'intervention' legislation which claimed control over land and monies in targeted Aboriginal communities.
Clearly the government of any country can just play with legislation to suit their own needs at any time. Just as I thought about it, a skinhead with a swastika on his t-shirt walked past. I wondered, why didn't the French ban racist slogans on clothes as well?
I walked into the entrance lobby of the Louvre and fell in love. It was huge, full of light and the gateway to a place filled with artwork and stories and people. Weaving through the gallery would turn out to be the most amazing professional development, personal and spiritual experience I could imagine. With eight curatorial departments covering everything from sculpture to decorative arts and Eastern antiquities, I had to sit and read a map of the museum before I started my tour.