Descent From Heaven

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Paris

Paris this time around was a hot meal gone cold. There was the occasional warm moment, though.

The Champs Élysées was a rainy wet street with repairs underway here and there, and fenced-up in sections against cars and people. Among the flagship stores that line the street there was the Apple Store, launched only a week ago. It was twenty-past-ten, and about a dozen customers waited before the tall doors of Apple Store, their line occupying half the breadth of the generous sidewalk. It was quiet time still, although lines had formed before the other stores as well, the longest before the grand Louis Vuitton across the street.

It was a weekday morning, the place was relaxed somewhat, and the Apple salesman asked to show around the place, insisting that the atrium mustn’t be missed. The ceiling of the atrium was made of — what seemed like — opaque glass massed in a crystalline structure. The ceiling gathers solar energy to light the store, rainwater for toilets and indoor plants.

“Your store is a work of art,” I said.

“Thank you,” the salesman said, smiling in complete agreement.

The new attraction in the area is the Fondation Louis Vuitton, reached by their shuttle. The first shuttle leaves at 11:00, from near the Arc Du Triomphe, on Avenue de Friedland. That monument this morning was merely a giant block of gray, glum in the drizzle falling on it. The sight down the Haussmann-designed avenue was just as moody. In the growing line for the shuttle, tourists rubbed their hands and shook and shivered in the wind.

At the Fondation, Egon Schiele was on display. Schiele’s sketches burn into the mind, so powerful are his lines. “My sketches are not my complete works,” the painter once protested. His portraits — and self-portraits — are intense, specially in the eyes. His landscapes are no less riveting. In the couple of hours available it seemed right to spend time in just one gallery — Schiele’s. Later, outside, there was no time to linger before Frank Gehry’s architecture. I was obliged to rush someplace else, it was raining, a taxi appeared just as I stepped out, and I ran to it.

Brussels

“This is the bottom skirt. I’ll show you the upper skirt in a while.”

We were between trips to Paris and to Milan, the high-fashion cities. These skirts in Brussels were large, very large, designed for very high lift. For rockets, actually. The marketing strategist conducting the tour was young, and a PhD. He was teaching new things, regarding rockets and missiles and civilian and military jets. His company has been making these stuff for a hundred years. He spoke to his audience of two like we were his equals. His superiors in the management, and top management, everybody behaved the same — courteous, proud, humble. Their technology serves humanity each moment, which same technology might as well destroy humanity, should the calling come.

That last thought came during the break, while watching them organize a vegan meal for their two guests.

Milan

I’d wanted to see Picasso in Paris, but didn’t. No matter. He was on show in Milan, right by the Duomo, where they’d curated Picasso’s works and other, supporting artworks that illustrate his preoccupation with the Minotaur, the faun, the classical influences on him, and the processes that got him started on a job.

At the museum shop, a book on Klimt was on prominent display across the store. Klimt’s was Schiele’s inspiration.

There were not many people for Picasso in Milan, so it was possible to linger before each display, lose oneself in it, read descriptions unimpeded. Most tourists were out at the Duomo, and greater numbers were in the malls and stores on the streets round the Duomo and the lanes leading out from it. It was Black Friday, followed by Black Days on Saturday and Sunday, which were in truth gray days with no sun. The stores were open until 01:00.

The Dolomites

The highlight of the trip was the last day, which had turned golden. The dark clouds had flown, leaving whiffs of their white cousins behind. It was a clear winter day, and Maria’s friendly voice broke the reverie the long drive brings. Maria, driving the taxi.

“Look!”

Ahead in the distance, and on the right and left, were ranged white-topped mountains, height by height, pure and bright under the sun. They pulled at the eyes, the whole body, and brought on an unbearable heartache. The windows were raised, but the air outside surely carried the fragrance of pine.

It was like catching a flight out and away from heaven.

Here in Bangalore now, there are not the sights and shows of Europe, but there’s the splendid weather of December. One should not complain.