Art in Paris: digital and natural

Monday, I was sitting on a platform in the back of an old foundry in Paris overlooking what is now known as Atelier des Lumières. The Atelier is the first digital art museum in Paris. I have gone five times since it opened its doors in April of 2018. All the shows are a combination of Art and Technology. Using 120 projectors, images are thrown up on walls and the floor. They are in constant motion and accompanied by music.

After watching a show of Cezanne, Kandinsky, and Van Gogh, I decided I wanted to know more about the origins of the Atelier des Lumières. As each of the shows ended and the credits were projected on the walls, eight cities (including Paris) now house these light shows: Bordeaux, Les Baux-de-Province, Amsterdam, New York, Dubai, Seoul, and Jeju. That is six more than the last time I was there during the summer of 2020. My sister had told me she had tickets to see the Van Gogh show in Detroit (for five times the price we pay here in Paris!). I had assumed it was the Paris show that was traveling but I’m not so sure. There is a permanent installation in New York.

The first of these art and technology shows, Carrières des Lumières, started in les Baux-de-Province. There the art is projected onto the walls of caves. It is part of a much larger organization called Cultural Spaces. Bruno Monnier, the president of Cultural Spaces, wanted to bring the idea to Paris. He found an unused foundry from the 19th century called Chemin-Vert located in the 11th arrondissement. It was created in 1835 to meet the needs of the Navy and railways for high-quality castings. It closed in 1929 due to the International crisis. Monnier has taken the space, left it intact, and cleaned it up while fitting it for all the projectors. It opened in 2018 with a show of Klimpt’s famous paintings. It is hard to describe the show if you haven’t seen one. My photos are static but the images are constantly moving like a giant slide show. Music is chosen specifically for certain periods in an artist’s life. The result is captivating. It’s not a stretch to call it a completely immersive experience. Children often run around chasing the images on the floor and become part of the fun of the show.

Kandinsky

After writing the above, I walked to Parc de Bagatelle to check on the peacocks and the cats. I couldn’t go on Sunday. I saw how fast the peacock tails were growing in. I thought of sitting in the Atelier watching these famous artists’ depictions of nature dancing on the walls. And, of being in Bagatelle week after week, looking at the trees turn colors, the roses die away, a few defying nature and hanging on to their stems, the peacocks strutting around, their tails growing so fast it just might be a slide show. There is no sign of the females. There aren’t even that many people even though it was a lovely autumn day. The cats were all out enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Gaston and Zoe (the cats from the circus) are lying on the bench.

The regular volunteer was just finishing up feeding time for the cats. I asked him how long it took the peacock tails to complete the circle to full growth. He said April. They molt in August. Four months is the short time they are full and probably the equivalent of mating season.

Two months worth of growth, the eyes are now clearly visible

I asked him about kittens. He said most are born between September and December. We never see them because the mothers hide them in the thick bushes on the periphery of the park. I had visions of bushwacking my way through those bushes until I found a litter. Then I’d steal one and raise it—much to the chagrin of Bijou who is the true Lady and Mistress of my small apartment. A girl can dream.

One rose, with a strong perfume, is hanging on. Because it is an entrant into the competition of 2023, it is not named.

Being at Bagatelle week after week is as immersive an experience as the digital art show at the Atelier. One shouldn’t compare apples and oranges but, if I were forced to choose…..

Van Gogh’s Starry Night

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A bientôt,

Sara

Hooked on Food

Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote Salt, Sugar, Fat and his latest book, Hooked, was the speaker at the American Library in Paris author event. I wrote a review of the book Hooked: How we became addicted to Processed Food a year and a half ago and encouraged all my readers interested in both Addictions and Food, to read it. I learned he was coming to Paris to be a guest speaker at a writing retreat this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for me to attend the retreat. When I learned last weekend, that he would be speaking at the Library, I was very excited. This man had thanked me on Instagram for the review and I got an image of an author that was totally approachable.

Not only did I want to hear him in person, I decided I would give him a copy of my book Saving Sara, A Memoir of Food Addiction. I could tell from his writing that he did not have addiction issues himself, at least as far as food is concerned, that his aim was to expose Nestlé, for the pimps they are (my words not his), to alert the world that these companies WANT you to get addicted to their products as it is excellent for the financial bottom line. I’ve long wanted to correspond with him but hadn’t found a way. When I met him walking in the door of the Library, after we all greeted him, I asked him if he would be willing to read my book. He said he would be honored. So I inscribed it and handed it to him.

He was interviewed by the Library’s excellent Alice McCrumb who provided an air of excitement about the book. He told us about the research presently going: on taking ‘Photos’ of people’s brains right after eating chocolate, for instance, and how the researcher can see the corresponding parts of the brain light up within seconds. Most damningly, it seems industries don’t try to hide the fact that they are working hard to find products that are convenient, cheap, and addictive. The CEOs of these industries would never eat their own food, Moss told us.

I found myself very uncomfortable during the whole talk. Looking back I realize that I had come with the intention of making his acquaintance, giving him my book to read if he was willing, and maybe forming some kind of bond with him. That didn’t happen. I appreciate the science and the research that is now going into the huge subject of food addiction. He told us that in his first book, he danced around using the ‘A’ word, In Hooked, he didn’t. He even went so far as to say that for some people this addiction is like drug addiction and that people have to look at what drug addicts do to overcome their addictions for help with food. What I finally came up with by the time I got home was that I’m so used to being with like-minded people when talking of this subject, that I’m not often in the position of learning the more scientific aspects of it. In Michael’s talk, he was talking about Big Pharma (known as the food industry), not the addicts themselves. People had come to hear the dasterdly deeds of Nestlé (which makes $63.8bn a year) and the nine other huge food companies that control the majority of what you buy from the food and beverage brands, not to hear from people like me. I was definitely the odd man out.

Near the end, one woman asked “What is the solution?’ Two days later, I’m not actually sure if she was asking about the solution to stopping production of these addictive products or the solution to helping people stay away from them. I heard it as the second. I raised my hand and outed myself as a food addict in recovery for over 17 years, and that each of us has to take some responsibility for ending the abuse on our bodies. The topic before had been that so many families couldn’t afford good food, they had to buy this cheap excuse for food in order to feed their families. I didn’t respond to that but I know plenty of food addicts who live hand to mouth who have found a way to feed their families with real food. In 12 step rooms, we’re told you have to want it bad enough. 

The thing is: I agree with every one of his findings, and I applaud him for calling this problem what it is: Food Addiction. But I don’t agree that the industry has to take 100% responsibility for our health. If I had waited until that happened, I’d probably be dead by my own hand today. I think each one of us has to take 100% responsibility for what we put in our bodies and, people like me who have lost the power to act in healthy ways, we should get ourselves surrounded by like-minded people who will hold our hands through the withdrawal part, explain to us in no uncertain terms that this disease is one of Obsession—obsessing about those foods/substances that are supposed to make us happy, find Prince Charming, etc, etc and one of Compulsion—once the substance we are allergic to, in my case sugar and grains, is in my body, I don’t know what will happen next. I’m at the mercy of my compulsion.

I felt very alone at the end of his talk. I think I brought it on myself. I know what he writes about and I’m a huge cheerleader. But I forgot what it’s like to be in the company of people just learning what is going on in the food industry and how people like me are already dying from addiction. Here is the kicker: It is easy to think “well this happened in the tobacco industry, maybe things will change.” Guess who owns some of the largest industry companies?? The tobacco companies. Tobacco stopped making the billions it was making, so they found the next best thing. Philip Morris owns Kraft. RJ Reynolds owns Nabisco. Does the average person have a chance?

Michael Moss is an investigative journalist and author. In 2010, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on contaminated hamburgers. His previous book Salt, Sugar, Fat, was a New York Times best seller.  Hooked (2021) explores our complex relationship with processed food. It explains why certain foods leave us wanting more, and reveals how our brain chemistry and our evolutionary biology are exploited by the fast-food industry.

Sara Somers is an author, blogger, and retired Psychotherapist living in Paris, France. Saving Sara: For nearly fifty years, Sara Somers suffered from untreated food addiction. In this brutally honest and intimate memoir, Somers offers readers an inside view of a food addict’s mind, showcasing her experiences of obsessive cravings, compulsivity, and powerlessness regarding food.

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For those of you following the growth of my peacocks’ tails, here are the latest photos. The feathers of the tail are at least two inches longer than last week and I could see an eye or two. On his back, the brown and white feathers are beginning to turn into blue and green shell-shaped feathers that will eventually take up most of his back.

A bientôt

Sara

There is a time for building, and a time for living and for generation-T.S. Eliot

I was sitting on my couch yesterday talking with a good friend who was visiting Paris from California. She asked me if it was smarter to rent something here or to buy. I said that it depends. Why was she asking? She said that the general atmosphere in the US has become unbearable for her and her husband because of politics. She had visited with another group of friends two days ago and that had been the focus of their conversation. Selling and moving to Paris (these were all people who love Paris). I was a bit stunned. She lives in California and I saw California as a refuge from all the insanity. I guess not. You can’t not know what’s going on all over the country if you own a computer or a TV or both. Maybe with the mid-terms coming up, the volume has risen so high that the desire to run away from it all must seem so attractive. 

I left in 2013. Before there was Trump (although we were going through the Tea Party mess). I wasn’t making myself crazy by trying to decide to leave my country because of principles. I left because I could. I had retired. I wanted to experience another culture, really experience it, and came to Paris for a year. That was one month short of nine years ago. I haven’t gone back. To be considering a permanent move without knowing anything about what the future holds seems very brave to me. 

That was the other thing we talked about. The future. We are both at the age where one has to be thinking “where do I want to get old?” “Where do I want to be old?” The US has wonderful Continuing Care Retirement Communities. France does not. France has a wonderful medical system. The US does not. If I can no longer live independently, if I have to depend on someone or someones, what country do I want to be in?

These are huge questions. Honestly, I try not to think about them very often though I should. Yet, it was a pleasure discussing it all with my friend yesterday. A pleasure because we are like-minded and putting it all out on the table. I recently put an offer on a house in Normandy. I had an inspection done by a wonderful Scotsman and I told him my age and asked if he could look at the house with that in mind. He was happy to. He told me the house wasn’t suitable for someone my age, meaning if I had to redo a room or a bathroom to make it more handicap accessible, it wasn’t possible in that house. I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to even think of that question much less ask it.

To me, thinking about leaving the country feels like a little death. It’s great to move if you are going towards something, have excitement about new things, having a chance to start over again somewhere else. But that isn’t what people are saying when they are talking about leaving. They say it with sadness, that it is so scary to live in the US right now. I don’t envy them. 

Meanwhile here in Paris….. I was down near Notre Dame last week. Before the fire in March of 2019, my favorite view of Notre Dame was looking at it from behind; the roof held up by flying buttresses. I’d stand about half a kilometer east on the left bank and take deep breaths looking at the extraordinary beauty of that cathedral against a blue sky. Now all you can see is scaffolding. And cranes. And more scaffolding. 

Two years ago, there was talk that Macron wanted the rebuilding finished by the 2024 Summer Olympics which are being held in Paris. No one believes that can happen. According to the Smithsonian website, the clean up was finished this past August and the rebuilding started in September. The government is still hoping to finish it in 2024 and has actually announced that it will be open to the public in the Spring of 2024. 

There was a contest, at one point, to design a new roof for the cathedral. There was even one with a swimming pool, I’m told. Now the new Notre Dame will look exactly like the old Notre Dame. Which makes me glad. “The French Senate rejected calls to replace the spire with a modern design, ultimately voting to restore it to its “last known visual state.” But France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission did approve proposals to modernize Notre-Dame’s interior with new additions like contemporary artworks—a plan that some critics described as a “woke Disney revamp.” “A parallel initiative to invigorate Notre-Dame’s surroundings is also underway. Funded by Paris City Hall, the redesign includes planting more vegetation in the area and installing a cooling system, the New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden reported in June. Per the Times, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said that Notre-Dame “had to be left in its beauty and have everything around it be a showcase for that beauty.”—smithsonianmag.com

This is what Notre Dame will look when finished.

And finally, I’ll end with a word about the peacocks in Parc de Bagatelle. I took my Sunday walk to the park four days ago. The first thing I do when I arrive is check up on the cats. If there is a volunteer there feeding them, I have a chat. That’s how I learn the stories about them. And now that I know that peacock tail feathers have a life cycle, I’m watching the male peacock carefully. I saw a peacock before a cat. He was looking in the opposite direction. It looked as if some pine needles had gotten caught under his back feathers. As I got closer, I realized what I thought were pine needles was the very beginnings of the new feathers.

Scattered on his back are what look like tufts of cotton. When the tail is completely grown out and he makes a fan to attract a female, it’s possible to see all the white fluff. This seemed unusual to me – to be able to see so much fluff even when both back wings were flat on his back. But I’m just learning and watching. I have no idea what the norm is.

It seems that today has been about cycles. The life cycle of the peacock tail of feathers, the cycle of a beautiful cathedral that has had parts destroyed by fires in the past, and the lifecycle of a political movement. With nature, it is truly a cycle. I lost my home in California to fire and built a lovely home from the ashes. With what’s happening in the US, one can only pray it cycles out and get into action to give it a big shove. That means Go Vote!

A bientôt,

Sara

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