Helping to Open the Tiepolo Exhibition

photo: cafe le carnot
One minute a terrace is okay; in the next it's pouring.

Less Than You Wanted To Know
About Halloween in France

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 26. October 1998:- If the opening of the prestige Tiepolo exhibition had not been a onetime event on a day when I could actually go, I would have gone on Friday instead, when it was raining. As it was, the sun was shining on the Petit Palais last Wednesday and rain was falling on me in the park at Bercy on Friday.

A small quibble to be sure. The price I pay for living far out in quiet western suburbs, is not going to 'openings,' which are usually held on Tuesdays. Last Wednesday's Tiepolo 'opening' was my first.

Of course I did it all wrong. I looked at all - nearly all - of the paintings on display and I did not pay much attention to the other people looking at them, or at each other. For this 'opening' was one organized for the press. More specifically: for the 'art' press hacks.

So who is this Gambattista Tiepolo? It is not like his name is on the tongue of every art fancier. When I write the name you are supposed to think of Venice, in the 18th century. When I consider his paintings and his career, I think of 'commercial artist.' A very successful one.

Tieoplo did 'deco' in churches and palaces, not in humble wood-cutters cabins. He got commissions from the lords of the church and from the noble people on thrones or close to them; in Italy, Germany, Austria andphoto: tiepolo poster, petit palais Spain, and he went to these places to live and carry out his work. He was sort of an early Euro-art-gypsy.

In this way, Tiepolo was a more modern European nomad than the international executive of today. His clients were the absolutely-powerful and wealthy; having his work hanging in their churches and palaces attracted other wealthy and noble clients; and he was 'passed-on' with a flood of recommendations and by tales spread around by nobility, who were the tourists of those days.

Banner poster on outside of the Petit Palais.

The class of paintings seen in modern hotels today do not usually denote any particular artistic fame, and I doubt very much that their display leads to commissions from businessmen on expense accounts; and nothing in the way of orders from their own accounts either.

While Tiepolo was in these various places, he also painted a lot of portraits, as sort of a sideline. I can imagine it: he is up on a scaffold doing a huge wall scene, and the brother of the prince gawking down below asks if he'll do his portrait, if the good Sr. Tiepolo isn't too busy.

If they weren't catalogued, these wouldphoto: pumpkin, to left be portraits of noble nobodies; but they are portrait-sized and - they are really Tiepolo's best stuff. Better than photographs; these are human-sized paintings of real humans, although there are not many wood-cutters in evidence.

The grand, huge, gigantic, colossal; paintings, frescos, ceilings - these are like the 'paintings' once done for movie marquees. Their themes are about as fantastical too. Just what is Tiepolo's career total for angels? Cherubs?

He was good at golden halos too; perfectly elliptical. Astonishingly elliptical! Well, the size of one of them is the secret - they're done by hand, so the larger they are, the better they look.

Doing the sketch for the 'perfect' ellipse took no more than maybe ten minutes. Painting it, very carefully, probably took a lot longer.

Can you imagine a career - even in the 18th century! - of doing this stuff? There's a couple of Anthony meeting Cleopatra, slightly different; but radically different from how people dressed in those Egyptian-Roman days. Both Anthony and Cleopatra are very tall; about the only animal in proportion is a horse's rear.

Don't get me wrong. Tiepolo was a good draftsman; you can see this in the portraits and in the drawings. He was also Italian and knew full well what Anthony looked like.

When you are a 'commercial artist' you do it the way the client wants. In Tiepolo's day big clients paid big money for big paintings. They paid nothing for historical accuracy.

The paintings now on show in the Petit Palais are rare inphoto: pumpkin, to right that they are seldom seen together. Before now in Paris, only in 1951 in Venice, 1971 in Udine and in 1996-7 in Venice and New York. Two of the 'Cleopatra' series, are on show outside Russia for the first time ever since the end of the 18th century. The 41 drawings are from public and private French collections, and some of these have never been in public view before.

Contrary to what I imagined, Tiepolo apparently did most of the painting himself - large and quickly. In the parts close enough to see clearly, there is some incredible detail; so you can imagine this in parts so far away that you need a telescope.

The best though, are the painted sketches made for the big paintings. These are done quick and rough, with more contrast, and are much more impressionistic than their larger, carefully finished end-works. The drawings stand on their own as finished works, never intended as sketches - and of these, Tiepolo did thousands.

In all, in the Petit Palais, which is not so small, there are 161 paintings, drawings and engravings on display. With proper shoes, the hardwood floor feels good. But there is still too much to see carefully all at once. Even if you ignore the big stuff.

Outside, the sun was still shining. I took the métro up to Argentine to look at motorcycles and get some of the week's other photos. Big motorcycles don't even look like motorcycles anymore.

Musée du Petit Palais
Avenue Winston-Churchill, Paris 8. Métro: Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau.
Open daily except Mondays, from 10:00 to 17:40. Until 24. January 1999. Info. Tel.: 01 42 65 12 73.

Note also that two Tiepolo frescos are on show at the exceptional Musée Jacquemart-André, a former luxurious private 19th century 'hôtel particulier,' now owned by the Institut de France. At 158. boulevard Haussmann, Paris 8. Nearest métro station: Saint-Philippe-du-Roule. Until 20. January 1999. Open daily, from 10:00 to 18:00. The museum's extremely fancy café is open from 11:30 to 17:30. Info. Tel.: 01 42 89 04 91.

Halloween for Max

When I was a little kid, 31. October was always on a week-night and never on Fridays or weekends. The first time I went out I was scared witless and my mother had to come along and ring buzzers and say 'trick or treat' for me. I was very glad when it was over. Mom or no mom, it was scary out there.

There was no tradition. You were supposed to dress up in a costume and wear a steamy mask you couldn't see out of; go around the neighborhood in the dark or fog and knock on every door and collect candy. Doing 'tricks' was out. Doing 'tricks' would have taken all night.

My mother liked parties, so when we came back with the sack of loot to a basement that was decorated in black and orange crepe paper, there were tubs of floating apples and blindfolded pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and we all shrieked a lot. Halloween was free-shriek night.

One year, at school, we were told about poor Guy Fawkes bungling the demolition the English parliament. Although he was caught, this somehow was the connection to fireworks. Two weeks before Halloween, fireworks went on sale and we got all we could afford andphoto: trick or treat kids tried to blow things up, just for fun. Later, the municipality took over the fireworks display, and this cut the casualties considerably.

A conference is held to decide whether to ask for 'trick' or 'treat.'

Not too much later, rock-and-roll was invented, and we went to dances instead of going around throwing firecrackers and collecting candy. All this is the sum-total of the Halloween tradition. Anything else added, is just frills, probably added by the marketing hucksters of 'Mother's Day.'

This year in this village in France, Halloween was last Tuesday, 20. October, on a sunny late afternoon. Halloween is really on the eve of Toussaint; so the whole of this coming week is a holiday - the kids may be elsewhere next Saturday.

Some of the kids had their costumes on, coming out of school. I took Max home to get his; one he made up. When we got back to the rendez-vous, nobody was there, so we joined a small passing pack and hit the doors flagged with a pumpkin.

Max actually had three masks on, so he couldn't see anything for more than about 23 seconds. I got him to take one off. He had a big sack too; about the size we used to have.

The 'treaters' only hand out small boxes of 'Smarties.' Nobody makes different-colored popcorn or candy apples. Nobody makes anything. Max doesn't even know what a candy-apple is; he thinks the 'Smarties' are a good haul.

A French lady asks if she is following the right route. Since nobody was at the rendez-vous, the Halloween 'collectors' are going are our way, coming our way and going other ways. Not all houses are marked with pumpkins; nobody has drawn any arrows on the pavements.

There are a gaggle of witches who have all gotten their 'witch' outfits from the same supplier - in fact, for girls, this is the standard costume. One of Max's masks is a rabbit, but he says he is not Zorro or Batman. Because they can't fly. So I guess he is a flying rabbit - wearing a disguise.

When he is worn out, well before dark and afterphoto: pumpkin, to right only an hour - there are hills here - his big sack is not nearly full. It is nearly empty, but he sees it as 'fuller' than I do. When he runs out of energy he is like a dying battery - suddenly there's no more power. Unlike a battery, he complains about the power lack - all of the way back to the car.

It may not be 'traditional' and it may not be how it is done in the rest of France next Saturday, but it the way it is done in this village; exactly like a couple of years ago when I did it with Max' brother. I didn't hear one firecracker.

The Irish didn't have firecrackers when they 'invented' Halloween at the time of Saint Brenden. The world had to wait for the Chinese to do it. Does anybody know how to say Halloween in Chinese?

Halloween In French and for UNICEF

The only traditional ritual I really care for is the siesta and undoubtedly this is a major reason I know so little about Halloween. The French are curious about a lot of thingsphoto: winebar, l'ecluse and this extends to this Halloween site, where the origins and rituals are explained, in French.

A wine bar, in addition to the cafés Carnot '1' and Carnot '2.'

UNICEF is about kids and so is Halloween in its most fundamental form, so UNICEF has a Halloween Fun section on its Web site, partly for fun and mischief, but also to get you to pay a little more attention to what you can do for the world's kids through UNICEF.

News from The Tocqueville Connection:

Although I looked at Friday's 'The Tocqueville Connection'photo: pumpkin, to left I did not notice anything exciting. I missed 'Angling for Entry at ENA' however, so we can all go back at look again at what has been written about France's number two 'Big Deal' institute of bossmanship in France. You can also read about last week's successful Ariane-5 rocket launch, but these are so routine... even though the rockets are made in my neighborhood, they're shot off in South America.

24 Hours Before Halloween - Cyber-Intello Night!

Makes a note of this date, Friday, 30. October at 20:00 - Central European Time. Spiegel Online and the Bertelsmann 'Science- Masters' series, will present a live discussion about the interaction between man and technology, even if there is no such interaction. In case you can make it in person, this happens live in the Muffathalle in Munich.

Entitled 'Der Digital Planet,' it will feature Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker and the moderator will be Douglas Adams. In addition to using the site to reserve a entry ticket, the participants are listed, with links to their own sites.

Need a Bit of French Today?

You can get this in handy and witty bite-sized morsels by visiting 'La Fable du Jour,' which of course, has a Fable of the Day by La Fontaine - in French, also of course.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

Issue 2.43 - 27. October 1997 - This issuecount down Eiffel Tower featured the columns - Café Metropole - 'Forest 'Panther' Turns Into Dog; 500 Hunters Mystified' and 'Au Bistro' had - 'Nothing in France is Like Chicago.' The issue had articles entitled 'From Shakespeare & Co. to the Luxembourg,' 'E-mail For Everyone in France, With a Minitel?' 'Sundown On the Zip Train to Poitiers' by Linda Thalman and 'Looking for the Big Pumpkin In Any Old Place.' There were two 'Posters of the Week.' Ric's Cartoon of the Week asked, 'E-mail bike with motor?'

The Tour Eiffel Countdown to 31. December 1999:

Only 432 short days left to go.

Regards, Ric
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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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