Paris this time around was a hot meal gone cold. Still, there was the occasional warm moment.
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 spanking new Apple Store, launched but a week ago. It was twenty-past-ten, and about a dozen customers waited before the tall doors, the line taking half the breadth of the generous sidewalk. It was quiet time still, although queues 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 said he wanted to take me around, 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. That lovely roof gathers solar energy to light the store and 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. We waited, looking at that magnificent arch which this morning was merely a giant block of grey, looking glum in the drizzle falling upon it. In the growing line for the shuttle, tourists rubbed their hands and shivered.
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 had once protested. His portraits — and self-portraits — are intense, especially in the eyes. His landscapes are no less riveting. In the time available, it seemed right to focus on just one gallery — Schiele's.
The Fondation is Frank Gehry's creation. I had no time to linger before it, to take it in. I was obliged to rush someplace else, it was raining, a taxi appeared as I stepped out of the gallery, and I ran to it.
"This is the bottom skirt. I'll show you the upper skirt in a while."
We were between trips to Paris and to Milan, those capitals of high-fashion. These skirts in Brussels were large, enormous, designed for very high lift — for rockets, actually. The marketing strategist conducting the tour for my wife and me was young, and a PhD. He was teaching us new things, regarding rockets and missiles and civilian and military jets for which his company has been making stuff for over a hundred years. He spoke to his audience of two like we were his equals. His superiors in the management, and the top management, everybody behaved the same — courteous, proud, humble, all at the same time. Their technology serves humanity each moment, and that same technology may as well destroy humanity, should some masters over at the very top should someday command it.
But we spoke good things mainly. Our hosts topped their hospitality with a satisfying vegan "business-lunch."
I'd wanted to see Picasso in Paris at the Picasso Museum, but couldn'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 going on a job.
At the museum shop, a book on Klimt was on prominent display at several points across the store. Klimt's was Schiele's inspiration. I told you above about Schiele, on show at the Fondation, in Paris.
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 the real rush was in the malls and stores on the streets around the Duomo and the lanes leading out from it. It was Black Friday, to be followed by Black Saturday and Black Sunday, which were in truth grey days with no sun at all. The stores were open until 01:00 and were bitter-cold versions of hell.
The highlight of the trip was the day of our leaving, which had turned golden. The dark clouds had gone, leaving room for whiffs of their white cousins. It was a clear, bright winter day, and Maria's friendly voice broke the reverie the long drive brings.
"Look!" she said, taking a hand off the steering, pointing.
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 entire body, and brought on an unbearable ache of departure. The taxi windows were raised, but I bet the air outside was pine-scented.
It was like catching a flight out and away from heaven.
Back in Bangalore, there are not the sights and shows of Europe, but there's the weather of December: temperatures in the low twenties during the day, early-teens at night. Here, too, is heaven — if you close eyes and ears to the traffic.
This was planned as a four-day trip to Paris and Brussels. But we had to extend it, to meet a customer in Milan